By Xavia Dryden
One of the most appealing aspects of teaching in higher education—to me, at least—is the potential for rebirth and growth inherent in the job. Especially for those who teach mostly Comp I, every semester brings with it a fresh crop of semi-malleable minds—young and old, innocent and experienced alike. No matter what you wish you’d done differently during the previous semester, come fall or spring, you get your chance to improve and rise again, well-rested and renewed, like a professorial phoenix from the andragogical ashes. Or, you know, like a regular human being after a nice few weeks off.
As I come to the end of my first semester of full-time employment here at Butler, I definitely feel a bit of the emotional fatigue Melody mentioned in her discussion of nursing a few huddles ago. I’ve had a lot of positive encounters with students this semester, but one fairly negative one sticks out to me right now. Today, in an in-class writing about his learning experience over the past semester, one of my students defined his attitude toward learning as “frustrated” and then proceeded to discuss his lack of progress in our course as the driving force of this frustration. This is a student who consistently (after emails, reminders in class, etc.) shows up almost 20 minutes late to class. This is a student who refuses to talk in class discussions and never says more than 3 words to me when I come around to ask him how he’s progressing on an assignment or whether or not he’d like additional clarification on any of my feedback. This is a student who regularly turns work in either late or not at all. Still, I empathized with him. Maybe, in his own way, he has been trying; maybe, in my excitement about active learning and discussion and learning communities, I’d missed some vital, elementary step in communicating one-to-one with this particular student. After reading his in-class writing, I immediately sent him a message, to let him know that I was sorry he’d felt frustrated, to offer specific suggestions for future communication strategies that he might find useful with other instructors when he needs additional support, and to remind him of the opportunities for points left in the semester. I don’t know if it’ll do any good, but I’m trying.
Despite moments like this, I also feel newly excited to start all over again in the spring semester now that the initial jitters are calming down a bit. One thing that’s helped tremendously with this calming has been Summer Jam Practicum—sometimes I feel a little crazy for having taken it on in my first semester, but every time I finish a blog post or walk out of a productive huddle, I remember why I took it on in the first place: fellowship and evolution. Being able to pitch ideas and vent about less-than-stellar days and celebrate and collaborate with people I respect and value—people who, for the most part, have been at this whole teaching thing for much longer than I have—has made all the difference in the world. It’s made me feel like a real, bonafide teacher who genuinely belongs. As I mentioned several huddles ago, the title of “teacher” hasn’t always fit me as easily as I would have liked, but my time at Butler has opened my mind to the broader possibilities of higher education, for both faculty and students. In the coming semesters, I’m looking forward to incorporating more of this possibility into my day-to-day teaching; it can be easy to lose steam and passion in the mid-semester rush of grading and student negativity, but I’m happy to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, how many careers even have a tunnel? No matter how stressed out or frustrated we might feel at times, that stress is finite: we always know there’s a break on the other side.