Tag Archives: Regret

An Open Letter to my Former Students

Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash

Today is the third morning in a row I’ve woken up exhausted from narcolepsy. This occurrence is nothing new.

What’s different this time is that it’s the third morning in a row I’ve woken up from a dream about teaching. It’s always the same dream, though the details are different: I’m unprepared for class and make a fool of myself in front of the students.

In the dream, I feel myself losing control of the situation, the classroom, the students. My humiliation becomes deeper and deeper. I don’t know what to do. Then I wake up.

Thank God.

These types of dreams are not unique to narcolepsy. Though because of narcolepsy, my dreams will last significantly longer and be in much more vivid detail and color than a typical person’s.

I also just happen to be house-sitting in the Chicago suburbs right now, an area where I lived for 9 years as a psychology professor, except for the year I took a sabbatical. Coincidence? I’d bet not.

After my sabbatical, I handed in my resignation for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list was because I didn’t want to teach anymore. I often did not feel comfortable as a college professor and that’s something I’m still feeling the effects of today.

Part of my discomfort was because I lacked confidence. My entire time in graduate school I had undiagnosed narcolepsy. While I could handle the exhaustion and sleepiness in undergrad, I fell further and further behind in graduate school.

Yet, somehow, through the Grace of God, and perseverance on my part, I graduated with a doctoral degree. And yes, I also have dreams where I am back in graduate school and I still have to defend my dissertation.

I wake up from those dreams, too. Thank God.

A good friend of mine, who is a social worker, recently suggested to me that part of the problem was that it’s hard to take seriously the concerns of someone in a top-tier doctoral program who believes they are failing in life. By the sheer fact I had excelled enough in college to be on a full-ride in grad school, including tuition remission, stipend, and health insurance, I couldn’t be too much of a failure.

Another part of my discomfort with teaching is that being a psychology professor was never my life’s dream. It became the next best option after I listened to someone who said to me, “you can’t be a high school English teacher. Those kids will walk all over you.”

High school English teacher also had not been my life’s dream, either. It became the second-best next-best option after I listened to several people say, “you can’t get a job as an English major. You’ll never make any money and you’ll end up working at a department store.”

So, psychology professor became the goal. And I achieved it. I’m really glad I did because I met some wonderful students along the way. You know who you are. Thank you for being amazing and awesome and I hope you are doing well.

I also met some not-so-wonderful students. I didn’t get to know them in any situation other than the classroom, and that is how I judged them. That was my mistake. And, again, something I am still feeling the effects of today.

Unfortunately, these students also know who they are.  How I treated them is one of my biggest regrets with teaching.

I let these students down. They are the ones I now suspect were most like me during my time in graduate school, struggling and uncertain and maybe even feeling like they were not supposed to be in school in the first place. I was often rude to these students, allowed myself to become offended by my assumptions about them, and treated them with arrogance and condescension.

To these students: I am so sorry. I wish I had been a better teacher for you, the type of person that I needed when I was in school. I didn’t see myself in you and your struggles and for that, I am sorry.

Another of my regrets is those students I met at the end of my teaching career. After 21 years of pursuing a life that never really felt like mine, I was on the verge of making my dreams come true after handing in my resignation.

I tried not to check out, but in the end I did.

To those students: I am so sorry. I never wanted to give you a bad classroom experience or an educational experience that was less than you wanted or needed. That wasn’t fair to you and the time and effort you were putting into your studies, and for that I am sorry.

To any student who may recognize themselves in this post, please know that I think about you often and hope you are living a good life. Thank you for teaching me such valuable lessons, and I am so sorry if they came at your expense.

If there are any students out there reading this who are struggling, please know you are not alone. You have my heart and prayers. I have been one of you and in some ways I still am. Please reach out to me if you need help.

Finally, to any student who has ever been told they couldn’t or shouldn’t pursue a goal, go for it anyway. No one can predict the future.

Sincerely,

Kelly Kandra Hughes, PhD

Former Associate Professor of Psychology

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting: A Fable in 566 Words

waiting

The woman sank down as if anchored to the spot.  Chair absorbed her weight, taking on as much of the burden that he could.  He allowed her to clutch his arms and dig in her nails.  Chair didn’t even mind when her tears splashed his upholstery.

After a while the woman got up and said thank you.  Chair readied himself for whoever was next.  It was Tuesday and today seven different people had appointments in this office – one for each hour until seven o’clock.  Chair knew he could handle it; he was no lazy boy and the comfort and strength he provided brought him a supreme sense of satisfaction.  Supporting people was his job and he believed no one could do it better.

Then one day news rippled through the office.  Across town new space had opened up for rent.  This building had a fountain in its courtyard and an atrium on the first floor.  Bah, thought Chair.  We don’t need any of that stuff.  What can a fountain or atrium provide that I cannot?  People love me for the comfort I provide.  They won’t find that elsewhere.  It was at that moment that Chair made up his mind not to move into the new space.

In a matter of a few weeks, books had been packed into boxes, pictures had been protected by bubble wrap, and stacks of paper piled years deep had been sorted through and recycled.  As Chair watched the flurry of activity over the next few weeks, he felt resolute about his decision.  He did not even waiver when the movers came.  Instead, he dug into the floor and he did not budge.

Chair grinned in satisfaction as he overheard one of the movers say, “We’ll have to come back.”  Chair felt eyes on him, taking in his build and he slouched further to the floor to emphasize his bulk.  He chuckled to himself as he knew his strength and the fact that it made him immobile.

Then Chair heard another voice.  “Don’t worry about it.  We’ll just leave the chair here for the next office tenants.”

The lights went out and Chair sat basking in his victory.  Yes, he would be perfect for whoever came next.  He just knew it.

Only no one came.  Time stretched from days to weeks, then months to years.  And just like a sweater that has been worn and stretched over time, the office began to look a shabby remnant of its former self.  That included Chair.

At first Chair hadn’t minded his solitude.  His imagination ran wild as he envisioned who would sit in him next and how he would help them solve their problems.  Then Chair began to imagine his former owner bursting into the office, proclaiming that nothing had gone right without Chair and he would do whatever it took to bring Chair to his new office.

Finally, Chair relegated himself to hoping that anyone would show up.  But no one did, except for the sun, the wind, and the rain.  It was not what Chair wanted, but finally he accepted them as his only company.   Even as new life emerged around him, Chair knew it was too late for himself.  No one else was coming.  He had missed his opportunity to move on.  So now he just waited for the end, glad that he would not spend his remaining days completely alone.