“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” –William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
May I suggest this thought applies so very well to that noble profession, that (and I quote) “work of heart,” also known as teaching? Though lacking in the poetic elegance of Shakespeare, I stand by my statement.
With a new job this year, a large percentage of my responsibilities has involved teaching those tenderest of college students who (among other gender identities) are not girls, not yet women: first years.
And I barely remember being a freshman–not, as you may imagine, because I spent the year on a months-long bender, but because I spent that year (as I spent all of my college years) intensely ignoring my symptoms of social anxiety and depression.
I can remember my poor, poor college instructors who tried so hard to encourage me to participate, recommended me for a job at the writing center, held one-on-one conferences outlining plans for me to speak up in class. And those who, perhaps simply to move discussion along or out of their own discomfort, called on me in class without knowing the immediate panic I would feel as I strung together an incoherent jumble of words. It was so much easier for me to write, to take tests, to read chapter after chapter, than to learn to speak in class or make small talk with my peers (which I of course had no idea I was supposed to be learning).
Now this is the kind of thing students can get support for, and I’m sure it was then. But I wasn’t going to do that most shameful of all step that akin to a confession that I wasn’t really supposed to be there: ask for help.
For a long time, I thought things would have been different if just one instructor showed some compassion. They did–but I didn’t recognize it because I needed to show compassion to myself. I did eventually go to the counseling center, and I learned what a gift it was to enter a space where I always had an attentive listener, where what I said mattered.
Another piece of my college experience that affected me unexpectedly was my campus job, which I still wish I had gotten sooner. Rejection’s a bitch at any age, isn’t it?
I had always wanted to work in libraries, so it perhaps wasn’t too much of a shock that I loved my job in the library. Beyond the work that I did and the slightly stern but calm environment of the 7-story building, the job was much more than the shelving or pamphlet binding I did. It was a place where people were happy to see me, grateful for my help, and always said thank you (if you ever supervise college students, the extreme gratitude for common courtesies will make so much more sense).
Now that my job is at least to some extent being an instructor, I can appreciate how those silences in class can be crushing. I understand how frustrating it can be when those really smart students with a lot to say refuse to utter a goddamn word (a lot of them women, first-generation college students, of racial minorities). And I really, really get how making a mistake can be such a great learning experience, though it may not feel like it at the time.
I don’t have words of wisdom for students, and I definitely don’t have advice for teachers. The only thing I can say is if you’re in college, go to that fucking counseling center. You have no idea what a beautiful thing it is to be able to take those services for granted until you’re paying $50 or more every time you want to speak to a counselor or how difficult it can be to schedule those sessions when you’re working full-time.
As for teaching…there’s a reason this meme was created.
Featured image by Marco Secchi on Unsplash