When The Feelings Catch Up

It is a wonderful thing when colleagues make time to be friends. Enjoyed a great afternoon with two colleagues today after two great classes. Students demonstrated courage and mastery reading aloud their Who Am I? Essays. I had an opportunity as well to get double duty out of yesterday’s teachable moment of dismissing class. It had come to me, after the fact, that the true challenge of Life in the Distracted Lane is about more than unplugging. It’s about the difference between wisdom and intelligence. Everyone in the class has enough native intelligence to master the skills of ENG 098 / Basic Writing. The challenge is to exert the wisdom to apply one’s native intelligence in a timely manner. Perhaps the entire college experience is designed to separate those who do from those who don’t.

Having prayed for and received a way to love my enemy (the oppression that shows up as learned helplessness in many students) as the Message Solo Remix devotional suggested Tuesday, I was able to rearrange my face to match that of a student’s. He’d asked a question about the free-writing topic selected by the day’s Discussant nearly hiding the panic just beneath the surface. The topic was portfolios and apparently it was the first time he’d heard the word, despite the fact that it had been mentioned and appeared several times on the syllabus, website, and assignment schedule. I did not allow disappointment to leak out or my eyes to widen or narrow in shock or disdain. With a tone more even than I could have managed in previous semesters, I answered his questions and returned my attention to the rest of the class as they continued sharing strategies, discoveries or miseries that emerged during their freewriting.

The emotional labor of teaching is the greatest unpaid portion of the job. Though short, by some standards, the nature of the hours we spend make them longer by far than many other professions. It may not be a burning building we enter each period, but increasingly the lives we come in contact with are most often on fire and their occupants are fast asleep inside. Our privilege is to have some recovery time built in to each year. Would that it were so for all workers. Which is why I believe in tenure for if it is a mistake, it is a mistake in the right direction.

The downside of the job, before, during and after the mortar boards have fallen back to earth and tassels are ritually moved from left to right, is that when the feelings we masque in order to get through a conversation, day, semester or decade do catch up there are precious few places to go with them and fewer still who would listen. After all, we do have summers off… don’t we?

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