During the 6:00pm graduation ceremony at Indiana Wesleyan University, Russell L. Fox, MED 352 candidate offered the graduate testimonial. Russell is a high school English teacher in Independence, Kentucky and as he noted in his remarks on Saturday evening, he came to the M.Ed. program to fulill a requirement in the state of Kentucky to complete a master’s degree program — but what he gained from his IWU experience was so much more.
Russell paid special tribute to M.Ed. 352 Instructor/Advisor, Dr. Dave Arnold. In response to Russell’s honest assessment of his spiritual condition that he had been procrastinating in pursuing a relationship with God, Dr. Arnold responded simply, “Don’t wait too long.” According to Russell, Dr. Arnold’s response demonstrated genuine care for Russell’s spiritual well-being.
With Russell’s permission, the entire context of his remarks are being made available below:
I feel both honored and awkward standing before you today. I feel honored because I have a deep respect for Indiana Wesleyan University, and an appreciation for the work my fellow cohort members produced during our eighteen months together. I feel awkward because I am standing before you, having been given the opportunity to speak to you, even though I’m not the smartest student in my cohort (you either, Keith). I was an average student in high school, an average athlete, and I was average-looking, so I went around trying to make everyone laugh, and seeking recognition wherever I could find it. Now, it’s been given to me… and it’s awkward.
One of the first things that impressed me about our cohort was that there were teachers who were earning their master’s degrees because they wanted to become better teachers. Because I teach in Kentucky, I had no choice but to get my master’s degree. I thought I knew everything I needed to know and that earning my Master’s degree would be just another hoop to jump through.
Our first class was Contemporary Issues in Education, taught by Dr. Schomburg. Being a somewhat politically-minded individual, I dove right into this class, and my first three-page paper was eleven pages long. I remember laughing at myself, remembering three-page papers as an undergraduate that were two pages long on a good day. What had changed? My best guess is that seven years of teaching accelerated students had affected me without my realizing it. Watching my students strive for perfection, revising and rewriting papers and completing optional assignments, I began to understand the pursuit of excellence, and to recognize the value of a job well done.
Ironically, though, the most important impact that Indiana Wesleyan had on my life had nothing to do with scholarship. The most significant impact was spiritual. I remember once responding to a reflection prompt that challenged me spiritually, asking when I had recently connected with God. I was honest, and responded that I had been a little off track spiritually, and that I felt as if I were procrastinating before returning to where I needed to be. Dr. Arnold responded with only four words: “Don’t wait too long.” I knew that he genuinely cared about my spiritual well-being, and I heeded his warning. The last time we met together, we had a meaningful discussion of God, education, family, and politics. I remember these two moments more clearly than any assignment I completed during the program.
This is how I learn. This is how I teach. I discovered a long time ago that, when a student has the idea that a teacher genuinely cares about him or her, that student will exert amazing effort, and produce greater-than-expected work. That is why I spend time after school talking with heartbroken teenagers, why the walls of my classroom are decorated with student artwork and pictures, why I dressed in full hockey gear and rollerbladed around the school on Halloween, and why I attended a student’s graduation from drug rehabilitation last year.
When we care about others, we can lead effectively, because those who follow must believe we have their best interests in mind.
I would like to thank my wife, Emily, for holding down the fort and taking care of our son while I went to class and wrote papers, my fellow cohort members, especially Keith, whom I text-messaged every other day to make sure I was on the right track, and Greg, who inspired us all with a story about participating in a psychological study that we are all still struggling to understand. I would like to thank Dr. Schomburg for his knowledge and excellence as a teacher, Dr. Arnold for listening and caring, and helping me to believe in myself, Dr. Beadle for allowing me to leave class early once so I could go play in a hockey tournament, and, of course, God, without whom I wouldn’t be here. May we all learn to follow him as we become leaders ourselves.