The dreaded back-to-school cold stuffs my head and rattles my chest. It’s week four of the semester, that time when the sheer fun and newness (and summery health) has worn off, and we’re in the thick of things, finishing our first novel, submitting our first drafts, waiting for the campus heat to turn on, and sniffling between classes.
I’m tired and behind on grading. Two sections worth of English 101 narrative essays fill a cloth bag in my study. Three class blogs have filled with weekly posts.
Despite this unread, unmarked, and unrecorded work, and despite my sleepiness, I am happy.
In my previous post I emphasized my new approach for the semester, a kind of hyper awareness to my attitude and interactions with students. To frame problem moments in the classroom differently, even positively. It seems to be working. For instance, one composition section is quiet. I realized, however, after students shared info about their hobbies, that many are readers, and self-identified with quieter, more introverted leisure activities. Talking in class is likely difficult for them. Instead of haranguing them to speak, I’m working with their natural patterns, and though our classes are more subdued than my other section, a spirit of good naturedness prevails. And, they’re much more dedicated and focused on peer review than the more outgoing, chatty class.
Another example: today I gave my literature class a quiz, and discovered that 1/3 of the class hadn’t done the reading. Instead of being lecturey or huffy or punitive, I asked the class what we should do. Other students talked up the quality of the books (“how could you not want to read them?”), and emphasized the need for self-motivation. I think their words spoke louder than mine.
Ken Bain’s book What the Best College Teachers Do was the first to make me consider how attitude shapes so much more than anything else in the classroom, and another book I’m currently reading, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, also focuses on attitude. Rubin admits that this kind of attitudinal shift, even if it’s a modification rather than an overhaul, demands patience and energy. It’s easy to express frustration. It’s quick to speak with exasperation. It’s hard to step back, consider the underlying issues, engage with the people, and maintain a positive attitude.
But what a difference it makes.
For all of us.
Last Spring was a particularly trying semester on several levels, and I had lost any trace of positivity. I was in survival mode.
Now? I’m a little closer to thriving.