I am a teacher. I inspire and in turn am inspired by my students. I am 61-years-old and teach nursing at a state university. Why did I become a nurse (many years ago, you can do the math)? I wanted to make a difference. When I think back, I am not sure what difference I wanted to make, but after many years of bedside care, I knew I wanted something more. I went back to school for a Master’s degree. I had some “inspiring” instructors who taught me that nursing is much more than “doing.” Nursing is about caring.
That thought stayed in the back of my mind for many years and reemerged when I began teaching. I was assigned to teach the first semester students because no other faculty wanted the class. They are too “needy,” I was told. That was then, and this is now, eight years later. I still teach the first nursing class in a four-year program. The focus is on the theoretical basis of nursing, professionalism, and basic nursing skills. My main focus has been on teaching them to care. Caring does not come naturally to all people. Sometimes we need to give care to teach care.
I have had many students over the years, but never a group as inspiring, thoughtful, and especially caring as my Spring of 2018 class. I have noticed, as many others in my age group, that students in general are becoming more challenging to teach. The abundance of technology may be partially to blame. I find myself stating the old adage “when I went to nursing school, we had to take notes in class by writing them on paper” or “I would never have questioned an instructor.” I stand in front of 130 students with their heads buried in their laptops, some typing, some perhaps shopping, and a few snoozing. Students these days also seem to have become more entitled. They want outlines and preprinted notes for every lecture. They question everything at an alarming rate.
But back to my story of the most inspiring students. I am a product of the 1960s and 1970s. I am an “old hippie.” My fellow faculty call me “Mother Earth.” I have chimes, crystals, peace signs, and essential oils infusing in my office. I am known to be a calming influence. I always have Hershey's Kisses and tissue in my office as peace offerings. Before every exam, I lead my students through a deep breathing/ relaxation exercise where most participate but a few just stare at me and appear bored. So how can I make a difference in their lives? How can I make them better nurses? I spend about two hours lecturing on the “Art of Caring” in which I ask the students to close their laptops and just listen. I talk to the students about the importance of self-care and empowerment. I empower them to learn. I empower them to care for themselves. I draw a large “air” heart and give it to the students as I explain that I am empowering them. The students begin making my “air” hearts and empowering each other. Some think it is funny, but most take it seriously by their expressions. I empower them, above all, to care. Caring is the root of nursing. Florence Nightingale (the mother of all nurses) defined the profession of nursing as an “artistic inclination with the essence of caring.” Hence, nursing is a bit about science, but mostly about caring.
Why then is this the most inspiring class of nursing students? The answer is simple: they care. They have learned to care about each other, care about their patients, and care about all those that surround them. They have learned theories of caring. They have learned that caring involves presence, touch, listening, and knowing. Above all else, I tell the students on a regular basis that I care about them. I explained to the students that they would be my last class as I was “retiring” from teaching live classes. Their response was more than remarkable. The students made me an “Empowerment Jar” and filled it with inspiring notes. To say these notes touched me would be an understatement. These notes were filled with the essence of caring. These notes touched my soul. These notes reminded me that even within a group of mostly 20-year-old students who lived and breathed technology, who communicated mainly by texting, there lived caring and articulate individuals who warmed the heart of a 61-year-old nursing instructor. They shined when they presented me with this gift. They made empowering “air” hearts for me. Their notes moved me to tears. These most inspiring students were going to be most caring nurses. The kind of nurse that would make Florence Nightingale proud.
Here are just a few of the inspiring and empowering notes.
“Remember and look back at all the lives you touched. You surely touched mine.”
“You help me recognize the importance of being in the moment and not taking any moment for granted.”
“You taught me that there is more to healing than medicine.”
“You are an inspiration. Your kindness is heartwarming!”
“Empower someone today.”
“I hope that you can continue to EMPOWER people as much as you empowered me.”
“You have empowered me to empower everyone I encounter.”
“Thank you for empowering me to have confidence in nursing school.”
“Thank you so much for believing in me.”
“You gave me a whole new perspective on what it means to be a nurse. Your caring attitude is inspiring and motivates me to be a better nurse.”
“The way you truly cared about our success, about each and every one of us so much.”
“You are my spirit animal.”
Thus, I am so proud to empower and inspire my students and for them to give the empowerment and inspiration back to me. These students have renewed my hope that caring still exists and just the simple act of caring for or about someone will both inspire and empower the giver and receiver.