In my first year as a graduate student, I quickly became used to not always having the answers, particularly the first few months that I worked with my students. It usually felt as if I didn’t know the answer more often than I did. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if my RAs were able to anticipate my answer to nearly every question they asked me: “I don’t know, but let’s see if we can find out the answer together.”
Most of the time, my students were incredibly gracious with my seemingly never-ending learning curve. They’d smile, nod, and wait patiently as I looked up the answer on my computer or called over to another office. However, that grace period would end rather abruptly when they were faced with a serious event on campus that resulted in a great deal of emotional turmoil.
“But you’re my boss. How do you not know the answer?” “Don’t you work for the university?”
It’s difficult to remember other times when I felt as helpless as I did then. They were right, weren’t they? I was their supervisor. I did work for the university. I was in a position of leadership and authority. So why couldn’t I come up with a solution for them when asked?
It’s hard to help students when you may be reeling emotionally from a current event, particularly when you hear about these occurrences at the same time as your students. Or maybe you’re not experiencing an emotional upheaval alongside your students – maybe you’re simply out of your depth. With technology being as advanced as it is, our students have access to information almost instantaneously. Between app notifications and Twitter feeds that are constantly being scrolled through via smart phones, I often feel as if my students know more about what’s going on in the world than I do, despite receiving these same notifications on my phone.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution to this problem, at least not one that I’ve found. Often times I simply need to remind my students that despite my position, education, or experience there are a number of things I have yet to witness or deal with, and when these things come up I need to think about them and process the same way that they do. It may baffle them, boggle their minds, and completely shift their perception of me. But it also humanizes me in a way that is different from any other conversation we have, and ultimately this strengthens the ways in which I am able to help them.
As student affairs professionals, we work in an educational environment – learning is something that is constantly going on around us. This learning is something we encourage and foster, hoping the students we work with will take away valuable knowledge that will benefit them down the road. But who says it’s only students that are doing the learning?
No matter how skilled I become at mediating conflict, responding to on call situations, dealing with helicopter parents, or programming for 150 people, I will never be perfect at my job. There will always be at least one more thing (and that number is likely going to be significantly higher than one) that I can still learn to make me better at what I do: serving students.
I will never have all of the answers. I will never know all of the solutions. Sure, this may be frustrating, embarrassing, or completely inconvenient at times. But there is also a great deal of opportunity for continued education in those moments, for both my students and myself. And as educators, we need to remember that our education is still progressing, regardless of what degrees may be hanging on our office walls.