Keep Your Hands Inside the Ride

The semester is off and rolling. August into early September is a time when my three roles at the school – professor, writing center director, and department chair — all need my attention. As July wraps up, I usually feel like I’m in one of those new-fangled roller coasters that are launched from 0 to 60 in only a few seconds. I sit in anticipation, tightening the seatbelt, making sure I can’t push the lapbar down any farther, and waiting to see how bad the whiplash might be.

This year was not off to a good start. My summer projects were not finished, of course, which is a little stressful. But, I knew things were really bad when I burst into tears in my boss’ office on Friday. It was a day where I fought for composure all day and found myself not winning the battles. I’m finding grief feels like being out in a wave pool being run on a variable speed. Sometimes, it’s calm, and I’m swimming along ok. Then, the waves get turned on, and I find that I’m sitting at my desk and slammed with the realization that I’m not where I thought I would be when I was making plans this time last year. Not married, not settling into a new home and town, not coming home at night to someone. And, even though I have wonderful opportunities where I’m at, there are just times when the waves of changed plans and past regrets hit me, leaving me in the middle of the pool barely treading water and sputtering for breath.

But, friends swooped in to pray and huddled in to listen, and by Wednesday, I felt like I had managed to drag myself to the edge of the wave pool where the footing would be more solid. Meeting the students went well. I’m teaching a summer session where I teach 3 hours a day five days of the week.

This year, part of the heightened anxiety was the fact that I redesigned my course, making it discussion intensive. Then, I found out that I only have 2 students in the summer session. So, there I was looking at lesson plans that call for an hour plus of discussion based on three essays that are a max of 500 words each — and two students. Look up disaster; this scenario is an alternative definition. Oh, and did I mention that I think one of my most notable teaching weaknesses is leading discussions? There was that too.

In the first discussion-based class, I was knocked over by a wave again — a good wave. The kind that makes you pick yourself up and laugh because you didn’t see it coming before it gently tumbled you up onto the beach. We only made it through one and a half essays of the three essays. Students didn’t have the author’s biographical information when they read the essays last night, so we had interesting discussion about how they understood the essay differently once the bio information was revealed. The students were positing interpretations of the essay. At first, they offered up suggestions saying, “Maybe this doesn’t matter…” But, I found myself saying, “No, keep going. I didn’t even notice what you’re saying when I read the essay, but you’re making a great observation.” The students asked questions about why one of the authors started a sentence with “And because,” so we talked about transitions and the mythical rules of English. The awkward pauses and tortured botched attempts at asking questions didn’t materialize as I had feared.

And, I had a meeting scheduled immediately following the class, so I asked the students if they could erase the board for me. They said — I kid not — “Sure, we can do that. We’re just sitting here talking about how to write our own essays.”

Other English teachers are either picking their jaws up off the floor right now or wondering if I’ve become a compulsive liar. For non-English teachers, I’ll put that statement into context by providing a brief historical timeline:

1. the parting of the Red Sea
2. Jesus turns water into wine
3. students voluntarily stay after class is dismissed to discuss the structure of essays

I’ll see those rough drafts tomorrow, so I’ll see if the momentum keeps going. And, I’ll be grateful for a day that helped balance out Tuesday.

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