This is my third year of teaching Spanish at Morgan State University, an HBCU, and I hope to have many more at this fine institution of higher learning.
In my time there I have had the honor and privilege to teach alongside some of the most supportive colleagues a professor could ask for. My students have renewed my sense of purpose in practicing the craft of teaching which I started to learn about so long ago.
We have come to inspire each other with mutual respect and appreciation. And we have learned Spanish and had a good time doing it.
Last year I lost my mother to breast cancer and I had to cancel three classes. The day of the Written Assignment not a single student handed in his or her paper without offering condolences. I was deeply touched but in no way could I anticipate what they would say when I returned after the funeral.
When I returned it was time for my Intermediate II class to take a chapter exam.
Suddenly I found myself presented with a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates and a sympathy card. I was speechless.
One student said, “Dr. Shuggi, this is from all of us. We want to say thank you and we want you to know that we appreciate you. We think you’re awesome and we’ve noticed a huge improvement in our Spanish since last semester.” All I could say was thank you and try not to tear up.
Most teachers wait the span of their career to connect both personally and intellectually with their students on such a level. I wondered what I had done to deserve such accolades and my uncle pointed out that I had probably just conducted my class with respect.
The chocolates quickly disappeared but I still have the dried flowers and the card. Whenever I feel stuck I look at them and feel professionally renewed.
Last semester I had a student who, in a single conversation, took everything I had read about race relations and threw it out the window by taking what the books made abstract and making it personal.
She told me how much money she made as a hairdresser but that it was her dream to become an English teacher. Oblivious, I asked her why.
She replied, “Dr. Shuggi, Baltimore is my city. I want to give back to it. You might not understand because it’s not your brother or your cousin getting shot on the street corner.”
But Baltimore is my city too. It has hosted me since I started college in 1999, except for two years since then. In one brief conversation my student had made clear my place in what has come to be my hometown and simultaneously focused my goals as an educator.
Teaching is a service to our community. It is, as one of my professors once said, “a noble profession” and its nobility lies in the possibility of touching lives with our love of the subject.
And those lives reach back and open our eyes with appreciation and perspective in turn.