Sometimes we get stuck in traffic, and even when we find a detour, that route often still slows us down. My thoughts on this blog have been like that lately. I’ve needed time to process some things before they take flight into cyber space. Every piece I’ve produced and not published has been part of the getting unstuck process, one that I often teach about to students and don’t practice myself.
I am finding a through-lane, though, as I regain a bit of purpose for this space.
This past semester left me a bit wrecked. Nothing that constitutes a tragedy occurred, and my classes ended very well overall. I managed to create spaces where honesty and community could develop, and with this, a few students who were cranky about grades voiced such on my course evaluations. Despite the anonymity of these evaluations, it’s often easy to pinpoint the angry customer, the one who didn’t deserve a C or had to work hard to gain an A. Somehow, working hard for a grade came with a bit more reluctance this past semester. For this reason, my own sense of fulfillment was tarnished. But I have been polishing my lenses and adjusting my prescription.
You see, I started to let this bother me – a lot. I started questioning the purpose for working so hard for with so little payoff in the end. Only to have a few students raise a stink because of a grade or a deadline extension. I started to forget the students who thanked me, the ones who wrote me personally to say, “I entered your class thinking I was going to get easy A’s on everything, but you pushed me. Thank you for that. And I am going to miss everyone so much.” Or the kid from my developmental writing class who said, as he shook his head, “I took AP English last year, but I ended up in this class because of some test.” He then looked into my eyes and continued, “But my writing has improved. I have gotten better. Thank you.” In addition, I can’t leave out one of the brightest students I have seen perhaps ever, look at me almost teary-eyed before leaving the classroom on the day of the final. I thought she might embrace me for a moment, but she lingered just long enough to get out, “Thank you for everything.”
I am not sure why the negative comments can get to me so much. I mean, I am sure. I know it’s because I care so much about each kid. But I have to admit, too, that it’s also because I want the reward, the affirmation, or the confirmation that I am good and I accomplished something great. We forget, however, that success doesn’t come without the negative feedback, too. Without those who are unappreciative or don’t get it. We don’t need to please the whole party to be successful, and oftentimes we have to downright piss some people off.
Let’s not lose sight of the forest because of a few dead trees in our way. In fact, we can even use them for kindling, to help us learn and grow. We can light flames to all that decay and spread those ashes along our path.