Years ago I had a professor who challenged me almost daily. I’ll be honest, some days I did not want to see or hear from her at all because of how well she did her job. I seemed to constantly struggle with the effects of cognitive dissonance while in her company. In short, I spent days upon days in self loathing, and I almost hated her for pushing me toward what felt to me like hell. She pushed me to look at myself and my many, many, many flaws-she seemed constantly to identify another one for us to analyze together-in a way that no other teacher had ever pushed me. She irritated me so much that I voluntarily took her for a number of doctoral level courses.
At one point, my husband asked me if I noticed that I was a glutton for punishment. I did, but nevertheless, I took her because she was one of the smartest, most well-informed people that I knew within the subject of study. In my view, only an idiot would have turned down the opportunity to learn from her. Even so, I struggled so much with self disgust that I suffered a bout of what I am now fairly sure was severe depression.
I believe that what kept me going during my time with my loved and, at times, hated professor were the little things that signified to me that she felt that I had the potential to do the work that was required of someone in the field, and that pleased me immensely. So, each day I would pull myself together in spite of my internal anguish, push through my course work, which included all of her delightful truth to power inspired feedback aimed at making me a better person, and do what needed to be done.
Of course, my job as her student was to recognize my loser qualities and work to correct them so that I could be of some use to the world. I would even occasionally subject myself to what felt like abuse during my personal hours, all of this in hopes of emerging on the other side of this grand adventure as a better person.
One day I walked into class, and in the middle of the room was a table with a large box on top. In the box were the most beautifully wrapped gifts, each with colorful wrap and a large, fancy bow. Our professor had not yet entered the classroom, so as we all filled the room that morning there was much chatter surrounding the curiosity of the unexplained gifts. A short time later our professor showed up and announced that we were obligated to know the work of our colleagues. She stated that the gifts would illustrate to her whether or not that was true. One by one we were to go to the center of the room, unwrap a gift, and take it to the classmate whose work could be furthered by access to the gift.
After several people went to the table and took their turn it became evident that all of the gifts were a book of one sort or another. After the first few gifts were opened, I noticed that several of my classmates immediately knew who the gift belonged to, while others (like me) struggled and needed a bit of help. It was fun to watch the expressions of delight on the faces of individuals who got it right!
Then, a fellow student, Michael, went up and opened another gift, and he held the book up for everyone to see. Our professor asked him if he knew who the book belonged to-I was totally confused-but Michael seemed to know without hesitation. To my complete surprise, he stated that he was sure that the book belonged to me. She told him that if he truly believed that it was my book that he should take it to me, and so he did. She then instructed me to open the book and turn to the last page. There, in her hand writing, was a gift tag with my name on it.
I took the book with a huge smile on my face and went home to read the book with total eagerness. I wanted to find out what she, and apparently other people, knew about my work that I seemed not to know. When I closed the book I knew immediately why I had stayed in spite of my internal anguish. She understood exactly what I wanted! The book was Pedagogy of the Heart by Paulo Freire, one of his books that I had not been exposed to before that day. The book is among my most valued possessions because it is a constant reminder for me that it is not easy to have faith because of the demand that faith places on those who experience it.
My beloved professor died a short time later, and I will always be grateful for her guidance. The handwritten gift tag remains in my book today so that I never forget what she believed I could accomplish. The book is about human solidarity.
While I am by no means a perfect person-trust me, I uncover newly recognized flaws to analyze regularly-my political ideology is rooted in deepest feelings about my faith.
Bélanger Robinson, Ed. D., Curriculum & Instruction-Curriculum & Diversity Studies
My primary research interests include racial identity development within the context of interracial families, White racial identity development, the intersectionality of race and gender within the context of identity development, as well as psychological well-being and relationship quality among interracial family members.
I currently work as a Associate Professor.