San Marcos,
15:21 PM

Caring for the Whole Student

By Suzanne Moineau, Ph.D., CCC/SLP

Editor's note: This is a condensed version of remarks that Moineau delivered to fellow professors and to university administrators during an Academic Senate meeting on Sept. 5.

Welcome to the start of a new academic year at Cal State San Marcos. I hope that you, as fellow professors, had time this summer to engage in things that bring you joy, and that make you feel rejuvenated. I know that many of you taught in summer session, as did I. I hope that it resonates with you when I say that I still find myself incredibly inspired to walk into the classroom, or log on virtually, and be a part of our students’ educational and transformational journeys.

With summer teaching and our students in mind, I want to open the year with a focus on well-being. I made eight referrals to the Cougar Care Network this summer -- for those who aren’t familiar with it, that’s a service on campus that aims to provide support and a safety net for students experiencing challenges inside and outside the classroom.

I made referrals for a wide array of struggles: poor motivation; poor self-worth; feelings of taxation on time in juggling work, school and family obligations; financial struggles; deaths in the family; managing the complex emotions around being told that your child has a developmental difference; abusive relationships; and homelessness. I was struck by how much our students are carrying with them on a daily basis – and that all of those worries and stressors often find their way into the classroom and follow them into their study rooms, impacting their ability to be fully present and to learn.

During my time working in the health-care field, I had a ritual that I never deviated from in two decades. Every morning before I entered the hospital, I set my mind. Whatever was in my thoughts -- the new tires I needed to buy for my car; the not-so-great haircut I just got; the reality that, despite having an advanced degree and a professional career, I was still living paycheck to paycheck; my father’s failing health; or the loss of loved ones -- I left it all at the door. Every morning, I consciously registered that there were people inside the building who were relying on me to bring my “A” game, people who had more precarious situations than I who needed me to be fully present to care for their needs. They needed me to evaluate and apply a vast body of knowledge, while also being compassionate and highly perceptive -- to see and sense even the most subtle changes in their behaviors and their emotions, those that signaled the need for more advanced care and those that reflected a glimmer of hope toward recovery.

Something unexpected happened with this practice: I often walked out of the hospital at the end of the day feeling that the dial of my life had shifted one or two degrees and that my worries were more manageable and less intense. I was often more taken by thoughts of appreciation to be a part of people’s journeys toward regained balance and well-being, and thankfulness for my own relative health and life circumstances.

I decided early in my teaching career that I would translate that practice into the classroom, and I never enter until I set my mind on fully present thinking – to be attentive to my students’ learning and their emotional states, sudden yet slight changes in their vocal tone or facial expressions that signal that they are not understanding the content or are preoccupied with outside stresses that may be impacting their performance. I have come to understand that I may be the only person in a given day to recognize that they are struggling, or to highlight their successes.

For our own individual reasons, we chose to come to Cal State San Marcos – and on a daily basis we choose to continue to make this very special place our professional homes. Each of us is fortunate to be in a role where we can have a positive influence on the health and well-being of our students. I ask that when we step onto campus, we come with our “A” game. That we come fully prepared and attentive – bringing all of our competencies as academicians and all of our compassion and caring as members of a professional family with a united mission to serve our students – and that we apply our knowledge, skills and professional dispositions to the work that we collectively engage in here.

And I hope, at the end of the day, that we can feel a sense of accomplishment and gratitude for being a part of the process that makes this great university such a special place to call home.

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Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist | Office: 760-750-7306