Mistaken Identity

Primum non nocere

‘First do no harm.’ Health care professionals understand that in some situations doing nothing is better than intervening and causing more problems. Sometimes I think teachers operate under a mistaken belief that they have the same responsibility when it comes to helping students.

The past two weeks were difficult on our youngest daughter… a college sophomore. One of her best friend’s sister – who is our goddaughter – died after a lifetime of physical challenges, then the mother of the two kids Kirsten watched last summer succumbed to terminal cancer. Burdened by grief and sadness, she’s struggling to keep up – and since she’s a straight A student this, too, is adding stress and pressure.

One of her classes is quite challenging and she has a test on Monday. So she approached the professor today, explained she missed a class last week to attend a funeral and asked him to clarify a few things she didn’t understand. His response: “I don’t have time to re-lecture. You’ll need to come to office hours and get the notes from someone else.” Office hours aren’t an option because the few he keeps are during times she has other classes. So she reached out to another student and realized that person didn’t have notes on what she missed.

She emailed the professor, again explaining her challenge, including: “I would not have emailed unless I truly did not know the answers to these questions, so I would greatly appreciate it if you are able to answer these.”

His response? “I’m truly sorry but I really don’t have the time over the weekend to type up my lecture notes. Please e-mail your classmates to see if anyone can help you.”

I’ve never met this professor – although I knew a few like him nearly 40 years ago when I was in college – so I don’t understand his philosophy. What I do know is students are at college to learn, professors are there to guide them on the journey, and parents/guardians/students pay a lot of money for that exchange of value.

By doing nothing, he missed an opportunity to help a student who is hurting and reached out. Instead of being a beacon of inspirational hope, he became an obstruction who added to her pain. Perhaps he was absent as a student on the day one of his professors lectured on that responsibility.

I do know Kirsten is strong and will make it despite his reluctance to help.

Per Angusta Ad Augusta: Through difficulties to great things


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