Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The gift of a smile

I currently teach at Framingham State College, and one of my colleagues, Jim Eng, is retiring as a painting professor at the end of this semester, after an impressive teaching career there of 35 years. (Now with close-cropped hair, he tells me he had a ponytail down his back when he was hired.)

I will miss working with Jim very much. Whenever I think of him, I am reminded of how much power we have to help others with just a small gesture.

When I began teaching at Framingham State in 2002, I had only taught one class before, as a teaching assistant, so this was my first "real" experience in the classroom. On my first day, I was asked to attend a meeting of all the instructors in the department, and I felt shy and intimidated. I was used to being one of the students, not a professor!

The others chatted among themselves just before the meeting got underway, and I felt like I was at one of those parties where everyone else knows each other, but you don't a soul, and you think you stick out like a sore thumb!

Jim saw that I was new and uncomfortable, and he immediately approached me, gave me a friendly smile and shook my hand warmly. "Welcome to the department," he said, "and don't hesitate to ask me if you have any questions about anything."

I did have questions, a lot of them, and I have asked for his help often over the past six years that we have been working together. Jim has given freely of his time and advice whenever I asked for input or information, but he has always treated me kindly and as a peer, rather than an experienced professor talking to a greenhorn. He has also generously recommended me for a number of teaching positions, which added experience to my resume and cash to the coffers.

It just goes to prove how much confidence and support we can give others, by simply offering a smile, a handshake and a few encouraging words!

The view of the Framingham State College campus, shown above, was painted in my Summer 2006 watercolor class by a talented graduate student named Ellen Osborne.

No comments: