Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ain't Nothin' for Sure

"If there's one thing certain, it's there ain't nothing for sure" is a line from a favorite Shawn Colvin song. While I haven't truly "learned" this lesson, it's one I work on.

Musing on a life lesson I'm grateful for having learned is today's challenge. Teaching is such a great place to be reminded of it, and the end of the semester it's in my face daily. I marvel at the emotional roller coasters we weather. (Wait, was that a mixed metaphor?)

When I'm at my best in teaching and life, I have plans but am not wedded to them. This magic zone is difficult for a control freak like me to slip into. I find myself trying to "get through" the day by looking forward to little joys. I try to control the outcome. It doesn't always work; in fact, things rarely turn out as planned, right?
On Wednesdays I have a break (ish) between 12-1:30. I figured I'd eat lunch, maybe blog or search for toys on Amazon for my Project Santa child--do something for a Personal Time Out--before finishing prepping for class.

But this wasn't in the cards. I took a bite of my grilled turkey and cheese sandwich and looked up into the tearful face of a failing student. After we talked about her options for the class, she got ready to leave. Before walking out, she hesitantly turned around and told me that she'd had a miscarriage a few weeks ago which had contributed to her getting behind in school, and that seeing my ever-expanding pregnant belly had been hard for her. Daaaaamn.

After that heart-wrenching conversation wrapped up (and before a second sandwich bite), in came a former student who wanted advice on a personal statement. He has been doing stellar in school lately, and as we chatted, I learned about his incredible life story and the obstacles he's overcome to get to a point where he has an honest shot at getting into a UC school. 

(None of the details about this incredible life story were in the original draft, btw, but boy will his statement be impressive when he reveals more about what motivates him. It's good to be reminded that at least some of what we teach in composition is relevant!)

Aaaaand, there were more visitors after these two folks.

By the time students went on their merry or not-so-merry ways, I had experienced a range of emotions that varied from deep sadness to enthusiasm and joy to head-banging frustration. My grilled turkey sandwich, only marginally appealing when first purchased, was now cold.

These emotional roller-coasters happen to folks who work with people closely every day. It's impossible not to absorb everyone's energy to some degree. It's especially not easy when you're a control freak and an emotional barometer, to boot. 

One thing that helps is remembering that line about uncertainty. It's going to be a roller coaster. If I can't even get a sandwich down in 90 minutes, I really have no control over the students' lives, either. I have no idea what will walk through the door. Might as well get on board and just enjoy the ride!


Henry Aronson said...

I love how you braided the mundane (tryna eat lunch) with the sublime (the surprising moments of intimacy we can experience with students). It's like that - unpredictable, rewarding. We get to peak into and be part of other peoples lives in amazing ways. And when we're at our best, wow!

Henry Aronson said...

. . . and a Shawn Colvin reference! Girl, you win the internet!