The last two days have been full of intense emotion, mostly because the graduating senior class at my school has very publicly, and multiple times, expressed their gratitude and appreciation for me. Among other things they have dedicated the yearbook to me and written letters about the impact I have had on them. The levels of appreciation have been so deep that I have had to gather myself multiple times so as to not break down in a sobbing mess, tears of joy flowing down my cheeks.
I don't know what to do with all of this appreciation because I am not used to getting it. Back when I was in academia, appreciation was in short supply. Individual students often thanked me at the end of the semester, but my employers never heard these words of praise, nor did they offer me much appreciation themselves. As a low-level academic, both on and off the tenure track, I was expected to fill the slots on the schedule and not inspire any student complaints. That's the only expectation placed on my teaching, which was considered to be a negligible contribution to the university. After years and years of this I started to go a little insane, wondering if anyone besides my students was aware of the impact I was having.
Things are different now. My colleagues and superiors have both acknowledged the bonds I've built with the graduating seniors. The appreciation and support I have received has only made me feel better about my work at school. So few university administrators seem to realize that faculty need appreciation, they need a sense that they and their work have value. Around the time I left academia, I began to think that maybe I had little to offer, that I did not have value, and that my work was meaningless. Those self-doubts no longer exist for me, and it's all due to working in an environment where I am treated as a human being with worth. That shouldn't be such a difficult feeling to establish, but the academic world, for whatever reason, seems to have a hard time with it.