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TN professor's 'compassionate' gesture leaves single mom in tears

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Professor Joel Bunkowske and young Xzavier. Courtesy of Amanda Osbon Professor Joel Bunkowske and young Xzavier. Courtesy of Amanda Osbon

By Scott Stump, TODAY

(NBC News) - A single mom without a babysitter for the night, Amanda Osbon was understandably stressed when she had to take her toddler son to her college class.

Her regular babysitter had an infant of her own who was teething that night, so Osbon called her professor at DeVry University in Nashville, Tennessee, and asked if it was acceptable to bring her son, Xzavier, who turns 2 years old in November. Xzavier sat next to her during the class, which went from 6 to 9 p.m., and during a break in class at 7:30 p.m., Professor Joel Bunkowske left Osbon in tears with a simple act of empathy.

"If you saw my face in class, I was so embarrassed at first,'' Osbon told TODAY.com. "My son kept wanting to get down [from his seat], and [Bunkowske] said, 'Amanda, everybody here has kids. It can be hard for a child to sit there for three hours, so by all means let him down.'"

She continued, "Xzavier ran up to him and held his little arms up, and when [Bunkowske] picked him up, I just broke down and started crying right in class. It made me feel so good that he was compassionate toward me."

Bunkowske told TODAY.com, "We know our students at DeVry have different needs and life circumstances, and at times we know they need extra support. We have a caring culture, and that's what makes the university a special place."

Osbon, 27, is working toward a bachelor's degree in criminal justice with a specialization in digital forensics that she hopes to complete by December 2016. Her class with Bunkowske features only about 10 students, almost all of whom she said are parents. She is taking three classes this semester and currently has a 4.0 grade-point average.

"If you're a working, single parent and you're coming to school in the evening, you're under significant stress and trying to change your life,'' Bunkowske said. "When she was crying, I guess she was expressing that the world doesn't care that much and you kind of have to bootstrap yourself up, so when someone does something to show they care, you can get emotional."

He added, "This is not about me. This is about all teachers. I think the joy of it, if anything, is that people can recognize that people are there who really care and want to help others change their lives."

"I've had a lot of supporters and people saying 'Great job' to me and my professor,'' Osbon said. "There's been a few negative comments that have hurt, like people saying, 'I'm in college, paying for my tuition, and I don't want a kid running around distracting me.' He wasn't a distraction in the classroom. You would've never known he was there."

Osbon is a U.S. Army veteran who is using the G.I. Bill to help pay for her tuition. She was working a $10-an-hour job last year before deciding to enroll in DeVry in October 2014. Unable to afford daycare, she has paid a private babysitter to watch her son. Her classes are all at night, which also removes daycare as an option while she is in school.

"I'm still living paycheck to paycheck, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel now,'' she said. "Even if colleges just charged for daycare in the tuition, we would pay for that, because it's not always just from 9 to to 5 that you need it."

Dealing with all those issues only magnified Bunkowske's small act of kindness for Osbon. He is not the first professor to show some sympathy for students who are parents, as a professor in Israel was part of a viral photo in May featuring him calming a student's baby.

"I want everybody to know life can be tough, but just battle through it,'' Osbon said. "People will understand. Swallow your pride like I had to do and people will come through for you."

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