Tuesday, March 1, 2011

a retrospective on the future

This week wraps up my first quarter of being an adjunct instructor. The past eleven weeks have been an interesting experience to say the least.

Being the one wielding the dry erase pens and flipping through the slideshow is an entirely different experience than sitting slack-jawed and passive, eyes glazed and mind wandering; like I did for the first 25 years of my classroom experiences.

Seeing all these faces ready to soak up knowledge makes me think of myself when I was in college.The first day of classes I was always so on top of things, bright-eyed, ready to listen and learn, fresh pens and notecards at the ready.

Well, alright...maybe not the entire first day...maybe the first half of the day...no...

Okay. Honestly, my inner go-getter was ready to be a go-outsider or go-homer within about the first 15 minutes of each class. Maybe less.

As soon as that slideshow came into focus on the projector screen and the professor began to drone on and on in the way only a teacher can, I was ready to be out of there. Outside. Anywhere.

I'm pretty sure I avoided the freshman fifteen solely by fidgeting.

Graphic Design is my life, I should have been listening, I should have been hanging on every word.

But I wasn't, and I didn't.

I learned only for the tests and put in the minimal effort that I had to in order to get by. Monday at 8 am often found me struggling to complete a project that was due for my 9 am class; a project that we'd had four weeks to finish; a project that I hadn't even started.

So yeah, I get it.

I get that even when you're learning something that you find fascinating, or something that's essential for your career, the shear fact that you're required to be there makes you resist.

That, I understand.

What I never understood before is how amazingly frustrating and awful it can be to watch people who are so talented and so full of potential throw up walls for themselves. There's no way I could have understood what it's like to hear the same excuses over and over again and to know for a fact that they're fiction.

Students who should be flying through this material are never even beginning, or quitting halfway through, or not showing up at all...but don't you worry, they can tell you why:

-The weather was bad
-My significant other was sick
-I have kids
-I have pets
-I have that "throat thing"
-My car wouldn't start
-I work two jobs
-My roommate keep me awake


Go ahead, give me a reason, I can guarantee you I've heard it before, I've probably used it myself.

The delightful irony here is that I have to show up for every single scheduled class. Regardless of whether or not my car starts, if I twist my ankle, if someone dies, if I'm sick, if it's -6 degrees, if my other job made me tired or the schedule conflicted, I have to be there. It must be some kind of cosmic punishment for my decades as a world champion slacker.

Not only do I have to be there, but I'm acutely aware of who isn't there. I never expected to care, but I do.

It makes me feel amazing when people who were struggling begin to do better just because they refused to give up

It matters to me who is slipping though the cracks, it matters who is making a conscious decision to fail. Because that's exactly what it is: a choice. If someone had told me that when I was in school, I would have laughed in their face.

I would have said, "What the hell are you talking about?! Of course it's not my choice, it's not my fault, stuff just happens that keeps from getting things done."

But when I look back I see a very different picture. I see my instructors trying to push me in the right direction but never being able to get my full attention or effort applied to anything. I see countless hours of time I spent avoiding work when I could have spent one hour completing it.

I see now that my excuses were my way of saying "I'm not accountable for my own life."

This is not to say that I won't make excuses for things anymore, because I surely will. But now I will be a little more honest with myself about why I'm making them.

So what incredible new insight did I draw from my first 12 weeks?

Simply this:

I should keep teaching. I might learn something.


Cherylann Collins said...

"I should keep teaching. I might learn something."

Awesome post! I especially love that last line.

Your post is a good reminder that we shouldn't be excusing our lives away. Besides, I have realized that some of the things I thought were keeping me back have actually helped me learn and grow more than I otherwise would have.

Anonymous said...

Well said...

I have taught for a while now and I can tell you this:

1. I have learned far more than I could have possibly imagined about myself and my trade through teaching.

2. It doesn't get much easier dealing with the slackers, but the success stories will soon far outweigh them, and sometimes the slackers will come back and shock you with what they did get from you.