…Or is it the other way around?
I met this afternoon with Carrie, a student I taught three years ago in one of my Local U. freshman English classes. I had bumped into her again after all this time when I ducked into my colleague Charlotte’s room at the end of her class – Carrie’s class, as it happens – to tell her about this article. I turned around after talking to Charlotte to find Carrie, grinning from ear to ear. After a lovely hug, she asked me if we could get together. I told her to find me on facebook and we’d make plans.
She’s working on a paper for Charlotte, and it seems she’s been stymied a bit by the prospect (Charlotte is a remarkably sharp and demanding thinker, and she expects the same of her students. I am in love with this woman, but that’s a post for another time). Carrie, it seems, has been fretting about this paper for a while now – to the point of starting three different drafts of the thing – and decided that now was the time to send up a flare and ask for help.
I met her in one of our local coffee shops where we chatted a bit about her adventures these last three years, her travels, and her plans for her life after she graduates in June. Then we talked about her paper (Charlotte’s asking the students to choose one of the works they’ve read in class, then write an analysis of an element in that piece), and about what kinds of strategies Carrie can employ to get to the kind of specificity Charlotte’s looking for. Carrie had an idea of WHAT she wanted to talk about – she had a topic that was acting as the “splinter in her brain” that she wanted to know more about – but she wasn’t sure how to go about getting down to the kind of focus Charlotte requires. Carries’s smart, though, and quick, and within about 5 minutes, we talked our way to her furiously scribbling notes and seeming genuinely less stressed about the task ahead of her.
I can’t wait to read her next draft.
Just as I shifted the conversation to business, Carrie ducked under the table for a second and came back up with a single Gerbera daisy for me, along with a lovely note about how much I’ve influenced her for the better. As I drove home after what I think was a very productive meeting, I thought about that lovely gesture. Sometimes (oh, who am I kidding? Always!) I am surprised by the ways in which students respond to the work that I do with them. I spend so much time worrying about the ones I’m not reaching that I often miss the ways I touch the ones I DO hit.
I’ve been feeling, since the start of this school year, that I still haven’t quite found my groove. I’ve been worried about that, and concerned that maybe I’m “off” in a real and significant way. As I talked with my former student about scholarly things, easily and with authority, I started feeling a little bit of that groove coming back. I’m good at this; I care about the work that I do enough to do it well. I respect my discipline and the students who rely on me to give them skills and tools they need, and I care enough about that to be diligent and conscientious. With that feeling of competence comes an increasing feeling of confidence. I’m on my way back.