Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Learning to let it fall down

There is no good time to read student evaluations of your teaching.

Who would have known? Well, I could have told you the fomer back during the first year I was teaching and held that treacherous pile of critiques in its manila envelope. The truth that really surprised me was not the truth itself, but rather who spoke it. I was running late... as always...to teach my afternoon classes when I ran into a colleague I hadn't seen in some time. She and I had always been friendly, but to be perfectly honest, she's intimidating. She is a balance of confidence and grace. Intellect and poice, humor and selflessness. Admitedly I took my time getting out of my car to face her in the parking lot, secretly hoping she'd just offer a smile and a wave--being what I would do to get out of almost any conversation that might make me slightly uncomfortable--and be on her merry way, so that I could skirt off to my office before class. But, no. She waited as I fumbled for my Mcdonald's bag of trash from the morning's coffee to throw away and my stack of books. Animatedly, we talked about school, classes, taking care of ourselves in the meantime (quick, hide that bag!) a little about our lives. And then, the comment: "There is absolutely no good time to read your student evaluations."

I am intimidated easily, and especially with my colleages at the university, most of whom hold degrees higher than I do (which is a huge deal in Academia). Yet the fact that someone who I see as so confident, so incredibly smart, and so...together... would speak that truth, my truth was truly liberating. You see, even when we put on a good front and act like things don't matter, sometimes they do. I am secretly scared silly to open that envelope, semester after semester, year after year, just waiting for the one comment that will be seared in my brain to prove that I'm Not. Good. Enough.

Ironically enough, that comment generally comes from a disgruntled individual who probably missed two weeks of classes or had a predisposition to hate the subject I teach from the time he or she relunctantly was advised to add my course to his or her schedule.

Or maybe it doesn't. Perhaps it comes from someone who really loved learning languages until they took my class. And something about the way I taught it turned them away and soured them on the subject for life. But, really, who cares?

The point is still the same: I can be leveled to feeling inadequate in mere seconds by a comment written by a person whose intent was to learn from me. The student is not greater than the master. Why should I let the student have such a hold on me? Or on my colleague? And perhaps, on dozens and dozens of instructors, or any other workers, mentors who are judged and evaluated by those who work for them..?

We want to be liked. We want approval. We act like it doesn't matter, but it does. But when we realize that those whom we hold in such esteem also feel what we do, well...again, it levels things in a whole new way.

It makes me remember that intimidation is just another wall for me to hide behind, and that just one single moment of open honesty was enough to make me feel emboldened today. And also humbled. The student may not be greater than the teacher, but I learn a whole lot from him or her when I let me guard down. When I stop trying so hard to be liked and approved of, but rather to just share and give what I have. And also to be open to listen to the other points of view that my students may have to say on a matter, or to do a brainstorming activity, or however else to show them that they also have intelligent imput.

It's good to be liked, but it's even better to just be me. At the end of the day I can show by example that intimidation is a wall of smoke that keeps us isolated from others when we--or they--may have something to give that will enrich because it is so, completely real.


  1. "It's good to be liked, but it's even better to just be me" I love it!!!! I believe when we are our-true-selves, it's when real happiness begins!

  2. I like the line, "...intimidation is a wall of smoke..." Insightful way to put it! I think sometimes we build up walls that aren't really there, but we've let our imaginations (and self-consciousness) get in the way. Good post, great food for thought. Appreciate it!