An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Amanda Gunn | February 6, 2013

There is this moment I will never forget. The night before my little brother started high school I could tell how nervous he was. Even Amanda Gunnthough he was already much bigger than I was, I remember him looking so small and scared. When it was time to go to sleep I went to his room, sat on his bed and made him laugh about all the ridiculous things about high school — from the stereotypes, to the clichés, to the strange prison warden-like principal at our school that, for the record, actually had a heavily guarded moat so the students couldn’t escape.

My brother went on to be popular and well-adjusted, and just a few years ago he graduated from optometry school. He teaches his own lectures and people learn from him, but he has never stopped educating himself and I am so proud of him for that.

I have been a self-identified student for the past 26 years, and if there is one thing I know it is that being a student is always a little anxiety-inducing on some level. This is especially true as you get older. There is a strange power dynamic as you become an adult with a strong identity, and yet you have to throw a part of that away and learn from another adult. Not all of it, though, because all the experiences that make up who you are help shape your education. Where do you draw the line?

Graduate school is one place, in particular, where all of this comes storming out at you in crazy, unexpected, emotion-fueled outbursts. The first year classes are different from the format you have grown to expect, especially when you have to learn what is expected from you for each individual teacher. On top of that you are exhausted from balancing studying and your laboratory rotations, not to mention that the rest of your life is being pushed to the wayside but popping back up at the least opportune moments.

Now, among other things, I am a teacher. My mom has also gone back to school and is a college student for the very first time. Through this I have gained an entirely new perspective. I look back at all of the times myself or my peers had an outburst about or toward a professor, and I realize that our feelings may have been valid but the way we handled them were often wrong. A huge difference between the older students I have taught in a community college and the freshman students I teach now is the level of respect they show themselves, their work, each other and their teachers.

Perhaps the difference is in life experience; it could be that the older students are simply more mature. I can’t help but think another influencing factor is that many of the older students, my own mom included, appreciate how fortunate they are to be able to take classes at all. They have come back to school because they want to empower themselves, and so they are taking ownership of their education. The nerves and the power dynamic are invisible because they are not afraid to show that they don’t know everything. They ask more questions, they work harder on their homework, and they are more involved. These are the students I love to teach because by breaking down those boundaries they are really allowing themselves to learn. These are the students who inevitable change the most from the first day of class to the last.

Not to sound too hokey, but I believe we are always students in life. If you are not learning, you are not growing or moving forward. Personally, I don’t want to be somebody who is stuck in the same pattern, always holding myself back with my own insecurities. The only thing standing between myself and my goals is me. So from this day forward, if I am frustrated or anxious, I will close my eyes, take a deep breath and remember to have respect for myself, for my work, for my colleagues and for those from whom I might learn something.