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A nodding student reminded a discouraged professor why she loves teaching


Time now for My Unsung Hero, our series from the team at Hidden Brain. My Unsung Hero tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. And today's story comes from Alexandra Middlewood. Middlewood is a professor of political science at Wichita State University. In the fall of 2021, Middlewood transitioned from teaching entirely over Zoom to a hybrid format - some students in person, others online. She had to adjust to wearing a mask and a microphone and try to keep both groups of students engaged. It was overwhelming.

ALEXANDRA MIDDLEWOOD: On this Monday, I was lecturing on the material. I had just finished writing something on the whiteboard. And I turned around, and I looked up, and I have this room full of students. You know, most of them are, you know, maybe not as engaged as I would like. And I notice there's this one student who is nodding along with what I'm saying and looking directly at me. And not just nodding in a way to signal that he's paying attention, but nodding emphatically in a way, at least that it seemed to me, that what I was trying to teach was resonating with him and his life experiences, and that he was understanding these concepts.

And then I felt really reinvigorated. And it was the most excited I had been to be there in a classroom for a really long time. And I remember thinking to myself - this. And I've really missed this. And this right here is why I love my job, and this is why I love teaching. And I hope that students will now be able to do that for their professors. And even those of us who, you know, we sit in meetings for work all the time, you know, we can now think about what little gestures like nodding may mean to someone who's presenting material to us or who's leading a meeting or, you know, whatever that situation may be.

KELLY: Political science professor Alexandra Middlewood. She lives in Wichita, Kan. And you can find more stories like this one on the My Unsung Hero podcast. To share the story of your unsung hero, visit for instructions on how to send a voice memo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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