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I will be taking a bit of time away from work this week and part of next, but I wanted to leave a post today that will wish everyone a happy holiday season.

This is a time when many people look back on their year and take measure of where they are now. They also make goals for their new year. I'll be doing some of that later this week. When I look back over this past year, I'm proud of what I have accomplished by just keeping at it, connecting with people, and trying things based on research and what I feel is right.

I am sure that I will be doing more of that in 2019. Just yesterday, though, I heard a niggling voice say, "But what if you don't know how to do that? What makes you think you really know what you need to know about supporting student athletes"?" (Student athlete support is the basis of my next big project.)

And my response was: That's true. I don't know everything. But I know why I am doing this: to make sure that students who play a sport are fully supported and understood. And I might not understand every nuance of that, either, but I feel compelled to enlighten others on these student athletes' commitment to their sport and how we can better teach them, support them, and challenge them to the finish line of their college degree.

So, no. I might not know what I need to know right now. But I am committed to finding out. I will figure it out. But it takes commitment, resilience, and knowing your "why." And I know why I am working on this project.

Happy Holidays and see you in 2019!

This has been a week of reflection. As one of my colleagues put it, working in higher education creates a constant cycle of whiplash: the semesters begin and then are over. You run with your hair on fire, especially in the last couple of weeks, only to turn around to nothing. Well, your own projects, of course, that you pick up where you left off, usually when it was another season altogether. But the sudden end always takes me by surprise, even having been through this cycle so many times.

Why do we do what we do?

This question followed me over the past two weeks, which were frenetic in both intensity and pace. For several reasons. First, there are major changes coming to our institution, one that I love and one that I try to make better every single day I am on campus, and even when I am off. It's an uncertain time, but I've been thinking a lot about why I do what I do, personally. But I am also thinking: why does our college do what it does as we consider changing programs.

To me, my answer to the question is the students. And learning. And more recently, mentoring. Helping. My focus has changed a lot in the time that I have been teaching, which is nearly 20 years. I like to think that I was always focused on students, but I do so now in a different way. I focus more on engaging them with active learning (which I have written about often here; see list of topics at right). More often now, I listen to them. In doing so I sometimes find their questions difficult. And often, I can't answer them.

Take my visit with a student last week. I still can't stop thinking about it. His question stopped me in my tracks, because I had no answer for him. I could not help him. Not anymore.

Because his question was, "What will make me happy, Doc?" He explained that he always thought it would be business and making money; those would be the keys to his happiness. But now, he was not so sure. All I could say to him was what I know for sure: he will figure it out, because he's bright, reflective, and perceptive. He's turning some of that perception on to himself, which means, that he will figure it out. He will figure out why he does what he does.

So, yes, I know why I do what I do. Yet, the bittersweetness of it hit me like that end of semester tsunami always does: three students that I helped out of several pickles over the past two years or so are successfully done. They'll gradate in May. They are off to find their way in the world. I know my college has given them the foundation to do great things and be successful.

And my wish for them is that they figure out why they do what they do.

There has been a lot written lately about "emotional labor," an idea that is discussed in this article in The Atlantic, which explores the term and how it has creeped into areas that were not intended by the originator of the term, Dr. Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist who taught at UC Berkeley. In this article from The Atlantic, she notes that teachers are among those who "[while] doing physical labor and mental labor, ...are crucially being hired and monitored for [the] capacity to manage and produce a feeling."

I'm thinking about that because I have come off a week that was very emotional for me. This past week students came to me for all sorts of reasons: serious illnesses (or tests needed to determine them), deaths in the family (in one case a shooting), and I even learned of the sad fate of a former student. It was exhausting. I am still exhausted.

So what is the solution? I know I am not monetarily paid for this emotional work, so what should I do about this? I suppose everyone, especially professors, must decide for themselves how  to respond to this reality. On the one hand, a professor could say, students have (for the most part) families, and that they should be supported by those families. That's true, but in reality, some are not. And it's also true that we have a counseling center, and I often walk students there to get counseling if they are in crisis. I am not trained to do counseling.

But there is a trust that I have built up with my students. That trust means that sometimes they come to me with personal issues if for no other reason than they are not sure where else to go for help. I help when I can, and direct when I can't.

I realize that this explanation is not exactly the definition of "emotional labor" in its original context as penned by Dr. Hochschild. But I am not willing to hold some kind of line in the sand to not be there for students in these ways to avoid the "cost" of this kind of work. If I'm going to have my students trust me, then they trust me. If they trust me enough to share personal stories, how can I turn them away?

This is the time of year when my Twitter feed is full of tweets from professors scoffing at the number of dead grandparents and generally not believing - or caring? - about these students and their stress. I dislike the tones of those tweets and comments. Our students are our students, with all of their problems, issues, and stresses.

My college is listed in the book Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope. In the chapter about McDaniel it opens with these lines: "If you’re looking for a college free from pretense and full of genuine care, put McDaniel at the top of your list." Rather than "emotional labor," I think I am practicing genuine care. I do genuinely care about each of my students. While I may not be paid directly for that, I think it's worth any sense of cost if I can make these students feel supported, encouraged, and yes, even cared for. It is my hope that they can then do their best in the classroom, which is, ultimately, our collective goal at the college. We want graduates who will make a difference in the world. If I can make a difference in their lives, my hope is that each of them will pay it forward.

What is your view, if you teach, of the role you play in the lives of students beyond your classroom?

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