Life Beyond the Classroom

As a person who wishes to continue teaching as a vocation—who, too, sees teaching as her calling—I hope to never lose perspective of what it is to be a student. And, if I feel that sense slipping, I hope I’ll have the self-awareness to know it’s time to go back and better empathize with my students.

I’m saying this because, as a composition teacher and creative writing graduate student here, I’m constantly empathizing with my students; we have a lot to juggle. As I sit writing this, I do so with the anxiety that I’m doing so with only so much time until it’s due, that I have to do work for three other classes I’m taking, that I need to grade and prepare for the two classes I’m teaching, that I need to write for my freelance position, that I need to work on my applications for future advancement opportunities, that I need to block out time to work on my thesis.

Notice how, in my rant, I unintentionally write I “have” to do this, I “need” to do that. As it seems, my perception of my work—of learning, in general—is currently one that’s being done not out of joy, but out of obligation. Not, as Gardner Cambell calls for, out of the “adventure” it should be viewed to be. Instead, in writing even this post, I’m wondering how to keep my head above water as a student who’s dealing with the “management structures,” the “mechanics of ‘student success.’”

Dr. Michael Wesch’s talk followed me throughout last week; I, too, kept discussing and wondering about the same questions he says all his students want answered, particularly “Who am I?” and “Am I going to make it?”

To be sure, my students ask these same questions to themselves, which is why I’m trying constantly to get my students to understand their purpose and worth on this campus, and to see those same qualities in themselves beyond the traditional learning environment. In class, I ask them what they want out of their lives. Then I ask them again—what do you really want? I ask them what they wish they’d learned, but never had. I ask them what they want from me. I ask them how they best learn. I ask them how they think they can accomplish their goals. And, while listening and responding to my students’ responses, I push them to at least consider the best practices, learning styles, and ideas beyond those with which they’re entering in college; likewise, I push them to, at best, consider themselves beyond the college environment. That’s what we’re preparing them for, no?

What happens to curiosity when we lose the will to be curious at all? How can we relieve the pressure from students? How can we prove to the world that this is necessary—that helping students discover the joy, the complexity, and the practicality in studying will lead to the most effective real-world problem-solving?