Having taught chemistry for over four decades, I am confident that I know my material. I also feel that I am doing a good job and have not retired because I still enjoy what I am doing. However, some days are better and others are not as good. Then you get the feedback that lets you know that what you are doing is worth all the time and energy that is required to do it right.
I got such a letter from a student who was in my class three years ago when he was a sophomore, and I wish to share it with others.
Dear Dr. Ornstein,
As the semester comes to a close, I'm writing to thank you for being an influential teacher far beyond the classroom. I recently took a chemistry class at UConn and it went rather smoothly because most of the topics were tiny refreshments from your class. While this is one impact you had on me, I also want to mention the events you invited me to outside of school. Before attending these, I didn't have a strong understanding of the far reaches of science and mathematics. But as I began attending the events, my perspective of the field began to grow. My perspective was not solely changed from these events, but also from other factors such as the emails you send, which I still receive today.
The classroom was a unique environment, one that I appreciate to this day. There was structure and great intent from simple worksheets, to elaborate labs. I still carry many of the lessons you introduced to me as one of your students, not all of which are chemistry. I always remember you expressing the idea to have fun with whatever you decide to do, which I carry wholeheartedly. This is one idea that I have negotiated endless numbers of times with myself and even with others whom I express the idea towards. Most of my friends will almost always hear me say before departing for our classes, “Have fun!” knowing very well what I mean by that. For me, I always aim to “Have fun!” towards work of any kind because if you are not enjoying yourself in your own pursuits, why continue in that direction of misguidance? Similar words have been said by you yourself, who always expressed the idea to have fun or better yet, enjoy what you do.
I also am thankful for learning the idea of “learning how to learn.” Another idea that you expressed in the classroom which positively impacts how I learn today. This idea is what I apply to my daily life, which has truly helped me at times. So far I have met very few professors who apply the same idea to their lessons, so I appreciate that I was able to be introduced to it much earlier on because of you. The lessons that I learned in and out of your classroom are always improving and being applied beyond the role of a student.
I hope your school year and new students are going well since you truly have a lasting impact. I have faced a lot of tough times recently and in the past, but the ideas that you shared with me have helped me handle them. I hope students realize that as well, either while taking your class or even after, since what matters most is what they learn and carry beyond the classroom. “Once my student, always my student,” is something you said during one of our many conversations about a topic that is similar to what is happening now. This statement from my standpoint becomes “Once my teacher, always my teacher.” On that note, thank you for leaving a lasting impact on me, far beyond from just teaching. Enjoy the school year and most of all, have fun with what you do.
Sincerely your student,