Andrew Arroyo on the Wisdom of Two-Year-Olds and Being a College Professor

Noodle Expert Andrew Arroyo discusses the lessons we can learn from two-year-olds and the hidden responsibilities of being a college professor.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

I would pick the two-year-old versions of any of my four children. Something fascinates me about two-year-olds — their unfiltered joy and frustration, their resiliency, and their boundless energy. Mainly, I would want to learn two things: (1) how does a two-year-old process information, and (2) what is it like to have a completely pure view of the world? Over the course of the year, I’m sure many other lessons would come up. There would be no shortage of topics. But if I could learn the answers to those two questions, I bet I could incorporate the knowledge into my own life and become a better person.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

When I was 13 years old, an elderly gentleman (who is now long deceased) singled me out among a group of friends after church. He extended his right hand, palm facing the ground, and stuck out his index and ring fingers. I’ll never forget the size of his hands. They were massive! In a serious but caring voice, he said, “Son, there are two paths. One is the easy path, which seems fun for a little while, but will hurt you in the end. The other [he was pointing to his index and ring fingers the whole time] is a harder path. This path will require self-discipline and sometimes will not seem as fun, but in the end you’ll be successful.” Although I pretended to be macho around my friends at the time by brushing off what he said, I still haven’t forgotten it 28 years later. And I am quite certain I never will.

Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?

Prior to meeting with the student, I would purchase a globe — the kind you’d see in a grade school classroom. Then, I would set the globe in front of the student, spin it, and say, “Where do you want to travel?” We would discuss the student’s ideas, rank them in order of desire, and then I’d send the student to her first choice. More important than the country would be the conversation we would have about her experience after she returned home.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

Eighth grade biology. I earned a “D” in the second quarter. My dad took one look at the report card and said, “Well, my son, no television for nine weeks. Instead, you will spend each night studying biology until it is up to a C or higher.” The problem, however, wasn’t that I had a hard time with the material. More studying wasn’t going to help. The reason I earned the D is I had a personal dislike for the teacher.

Something — no, everything— about her annoyed me. Her teaching style took my motivation away. Even her very presence made me not want to learn. And yet, I did learn something: I wasn’t going to like every teacher over the coming years of my education, and I wouldn’t have to. That’s life. But it’s no excuse. I could not let personal feelings toward any teacher dictate my performance. This lesson stays with me even today. It’s impossible to like everybody I work with. Even people I do like will irritate me at times. But through it all, I have to give my best. Why? Because blaming my poor performance on the fact that I “don’t like” so-and-so will never be accepted as a valid excuse by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

Being a college professor was my second career. I did not begin this career until I was about 33 years old. When I became a professor, I thought the job was just about teaching and doing some research. What I did not realize is how many other responsibilities I would have. First, there were the committee assignments. Committee meetings take up a surprising amount of time. Second, there was the student advising. I was not prepared for formal advising responsibilities that required me to help students register for classes and map out their curriculum. And finally, there were the extra hours of professional service as a peer reviewer for scholarly academic journals. Although optional, providing this professional service is important because I myself rely on anonymous peer reviewers, so I need to give back.

I think every job has its hidden secrets that one cannot know about until after entering that field. The lesson is to be ready both for what you already expect, as well as for what you don’t expect. There’s a lot that we don’t know when we enter any new field, so we have to be ready to grow with the demands as they come.

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