Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A highly personal post

I'm demanding of my students. I push them hard. I ask them to challenge themselves on highly nontraditional projects, and on computationally and conceptually difficult assignments. I get them to work together and to present their ideas in front of one another, no matter how shy they are. I don't let up: from Day One through the Final Exam, they're hard at work, writing textbooks, critiquing each others' work, and pushing their intellectual limits.

I push my students in the same ways I push myself.

It's no secret that often try to be superhuman, and sometimes I succeed. I'm proud of the progress I've made in my teaching, of the advances my research (and that of my colleagues and students) has made, and of the work I've done in service to my department, my university, and my profession. I feel that I've achieved a lot, especially since I began this blog over three years ago.

But I've recently come to realize that I can't do it all. Even superhuman strength has its limits.

I've done such a good job of making myself ready to be "the strong one" for so many people in so many different ways that I've forgotten what it's like to lean on others when I need their strength.

This has hurt me.

I don't want to hurt.

I've decided that I'm going to relearn a lot of things I've likely forgotten.

I'm going to relearn how to let myself rest from time to time.

I'm going to relearn what it means to rely on others.

I'm going to relearn what it's like to be human, and not superhuman.

To those who may think this post may seem inappropriate for my blog, whose focus is pedagogical: anyone who's worked with me as a student or as a colleague knows that my teaching style is a very personal one. I believe it's crucial that teacher and student understand one another as persons, as human beings, before real learning can take place. I believe that for effective learning to take place, teacher and student must trust one another, and respect one another, and that teaching and learning are highly personal endeavors.

I don't know that I intend any specific exhortation by this post, except to say that if you know me and if you see me, in class or in the hall, on the quad or in my home, please know what it is that I'm trying to do: I'm trying to be a better person, and in order to be a better person I might just need your help, your support, and your understanding.

I have nothing but the deepest admiration and respect and warmth for my students, my colleagues, and my friends. Thank you for all that you've done for me, and for all that you do, and for all that you'll do in the coming days and weeks and years we spend together.

I feel more human now than I ever have before.

1 comment:

Cogswell said...


I am sorry to read this—it sounds like you are in distress.

I have no advice, although I grant you permission to remove at least one of your responsibilities. I do not care which, but you have permission to quit a committee, drop a time-consuming (but probably cool) class project, take a semester off from research, or something similar.

I hope that things get easier soon.