Thursday, October 24, 2013

Being with

I had a hard night last night, and with very little sleep it carried over into an equally-hard morning.

I stumbled onto campus with eyes blurred from lack of sleep and too many tears. After I'd silently taken care of business for a half hour, the Honors Program assistant, Queshia, asked in a very clipped but still-kind tone, "how are you?"

"Not good."

"I can tell."

I pulled it together, and managed to craft what I think is a solid reading response prompt for my 479ers, who are currently reading Robert Moses's Radical equations. I even ended up having a great meeting with the first of my undergraduate research students (progress! Anyone know about the distribution of differences k - l, where kl = a2?). Then I headed off to 479, feeling totally unprepared, a naked charlatan.

I asked the students for updates on their I Have A Dream experiences and visits to HON 179 classes. Oksana spoke to the latter request, talking about her Wednesday visit to my colleague Samuel's 'Sabbath World" class. Samuel is a practitioner (and a very able one) of contemplative practices in pedagogy, and he began the class Oksana attended with a moment of silent meditation, later asking students to reflect on the saying "Remember to stop, to stop remembering." Some students took this as a reminder to pause now and then and reflect on what's going on in our lives, and others as a reminder that we are continually surrounded with our own and others' pasts.

I then took a moment to confess to the students how underprepared I felt, how I had given serious thought to cancelling class, how I didn't feel up to the task of leading discussion. But, I told them, I then told myself that instead of obscuring where I am and what I bring with me, I should come to them unafraid of being who I was in that place and time. "I need to trust in the community that we've built together here," I said, reflecting on hooks. "I need to recognize that being an authentic member of a healthy community often involves, among other things, being honest about who we are and what we bring to each other. I need to let myself be with you all. I need to trust that this is okay."

I was quietly crying by the end, and I thanked my students for giving me a chance to be with them.

I asked if anyone wanted to follow up on this. One student thanked me for my honesty; a second gave me props: "if I were having the day it sounds like you're having, I would have stayed at home and played with my dog for several hours." At this joke the mood grew cheerier, and we talked a bit more about community in general, and the community of the classroom in particular.

At the end, Sallie, whom I've come to know as one of the class's boldest students (despite her calm and quiet voice), got in the last word. "I feel like you're always here for us," she said, "is there anything we can do for you?"

"Besides not make me start crying again?" I joked, fresh tears welling up. "I don't think so," I said, "other than to just be with me today."

We then took a turn toward normalcy, discussing mass-media portrayals of non-white-male figures and challenges to hooks's idea of "radical openness." I settled in. I felt safe. By the end of class, as we concluded our opening discussion of Radical equations, the first minutes of class had been left behind.

My thanks go to my HON 479 students, a community of some of the kindest, smartest, more courageous students I've ever had a chance to work with. I feel blessed to get to learn with you.

P.S. -- it's turned out to be a pretty good day in the end!

1 comment:

Jennifer Saylor said...