October 16, 2012
So, what did I learn today? I learned that it’s more important that you show up and stay true to yourself than that you cleverly mask and try to be someone who you are not because in all honesty the world doesn’t need what you think it needs as you plot and plan in your head…it needs you for real.
But let me explain how I learned all this. Today i was called upon to teach a group of 10 year old-ish girls. No big deal, right? I teach adults…in college. I teach complex ideas in graphic design and creativity and I have achieved a great balance of humor, learning…nuance.
But yeah, not so much. I was kind of petrified and kind of bewildered and kind of feeling very out of my element with teaching 10 year olds. I should be totally in my element because I come from a family of very talented elementary school teachers (all of them can admirably and unselfconsciously use puppets and do voices when reading aloud and sing songs and do motions at the same time.) But, early on I decided that I wasn’t of that tribe and have pretty much stuck to that line of thinking every since. I don’t not like kids it’s just that I don’t really go out of my way to interact with them. But then, due to some unavoidable circumstances, I had to both interact and actually teach them for about an hour and did I mention I was at a complete loss? I don’t do puppets and I have weird self conscious neurosis about reading aloud and doing voices and most of all I am kind of casual to a fault and I know my nonchalance (which is really more self-protective than anything) can seem a little too ironic for a kid audience and a little too detached and uncaring.
So, I spent a couple minutes sitting at my Mac silently panicking and then I did the logical thing to do when stuck and at loose ends…went upstairs and poured a glass of red wine, found the three neon colored macaroons that S had gotten for me over the weekend (that I’d, like a squirrel, I’d hidden away until fancy French sustenance was necessary), bought a Carole King/James Taylor album from iTunes that I’ve been thinking about (preemptive rewards are always a good idea), and went back to the drawing board. Surprisingly enough, the combination was magic and I did indeed realize some pretty astounding things and managed to pop out a good lesson for the girls and a great lesson for myself.
The first thing that struck me was how I’d really been going about this task all wrong. I was trying to construct a lesson based on all the things I thought that a lesson should be, which pretty much amounted to how I pictured J and S teaching it (and all those ways included things that made me panicky, like reading long stories with multiple voices and singing songs with motions). While those ways are great for them because they do genuinely connect to kids, they really aren’t so great for me because I just don’t feel comfortable doing them and to compensate and try to mask my own insecurities I’d pick up all sorts of weird pretending and I’m fairly certain the girls would feel my discomfort and I’d ultimately become cynical about the whole experience.
So, I did the harder work of stepping back and thinking what feels both true to me and true to what I am trying to teach. Basically, I know that Lisa-the-teacher is alive and well but how does Lisa-the-teacher come out with people who aren’t the ones who she usually teaches? And most of all, what is the most important information to communicate and how do I genuinely communicate that information in a way that kind of gets “me” out of the way and gets the girls in direct contact with the info and lets them take it in for themselves?
After some more sips of wine and bites of cookie, I realized just how I needed to do it. And it was not how S or J would have gone about it but another vital part of me getting over myself was me realizing that it was okay for me to do it my own way…indeed, the only way for me to genuinely do it was to do it in a way that is true to who I am and in keeping with my own unique temperament and personality.
When I did my hour of teaching it was far from perfect and kind of only reinforced my own deep love of adult learners, but it did feel perfectly like me and in that I was quite proud.
So how does that translate to this process of distance education and learning and teaching? Well…PhD-ing feels like it should be reserved for a very heady and academic minority. I’d be lying to say that I hadn’t had more than a couple episodes of “I’m just not that academic and I’m not an extrovert and I don’t default to multi-syllabic words like PhD student should.” Basically, I struggle a lot with the idea that I’m just not that person and I can’t do the work in the manner of the crazy smart academic that I picture when I think of PhD.
But…then experiences like today serve to underscore that I don’t need to try and force myself into the form that I think I need to be in order to be worthy of a certain calling. If indeed I have been called to this (and to that I would answer an emphatic yes) then it is and must be the actual me that needs to come through…it must be the actual me in all its messy, humble permutations and not me trying to be the person who appears in my own mind. And when I am myself completely I find that who I am somehow, crazy enough, seems to be just what the situation has called for. So perhaps one of my biggest challenges in this process (and indeed my whole life) isn’t to learn more or think more or do more but rather to stay true to myself and intentionally filter everything through who I am because ultimately this is my project…this is my calling…this is where only I can fit and the people I reach and advocate for are unique to me and I must bring myself to this place no matter how inadequate I may feel.