Beyond the Buildings: Project Thankful #230



Going off of what I said in “Still September?” is the above picture.  See, on my campus there are alcoves, hidden sanctuaries dotted throughout the campus where individuals can sit, away from the human highways of the pavement and sidewalks.  This picture was taken looking up from one such alcove, a stone bench not even 100 feet away from my building.  The bench was in a cluster of trees, providing not only shade, but protection from the stress that occupied my psyche.

I looked up, and I was humbled.  There is a pressure that comes with being a graduate student and being a teacher of having to perform in the classroom as proof of the importance of one’s existence.  Looking up from my momentary sanctuary, it struck me that I was wasting my energy attempting to appeal to this need to perform.  My existence is not a performance; it’s rooted in the primordial, grounded in a foundation that pre-exists the buildings I inhabit.

It’s vital to remember the individual, the existence that transcends the name on the roster, the student in the desk, and the teacher in the classroom.


Still September? – Project Thankful #229

The semester is in full swing.  My students have their first essay assignment due October 2nd, only a couple of weeks away.  Between teaching and being a student myself, I have been trying to find some type of balance to avoid being blown over by the chaotic winds of the semester.

When you’re in college, as a student or otherwise, it’s easy to start to think of time in terms of semesters.  A semester is a shortened amount of time where we attempt to cram knowledge in before the end rolls around and we’re off for winter or summer vacation.  A semester is it’s own widget, counting down the days that are left.  It’s the sand steadily running out.

Here’s the remarkable thing: it’s still September.  SEPTEMBER.  The first month of the school year.  The academic year has actually only been in session for a couple of weeks.

And yet, we feel like it’s going by so fast.  It is, but more than that, we just tend to rush through our schedules without taking time to breathe.  We’re the ones who are rushing, not time.

Time is what we make it.  Don’t rush it.

What My Students Taught Me (Among Many Things) – Project Thankful: Reason #228

The first full week of grad school is over with.  On the third floor where my office and other Teaching Assistants’ offices are, the energy has changed somewhat.  It’s taken on a more serious tone as we fully realize our roles as instructors and the responsibility that comes with that.  Mingled with that seriousness is anxiety over how to juggle the classes that we teach and the classes that we take as students.

This morning, I overheard a fellow Teaching Assistant (TA) telling our mentor about his stress and his struggle to cope with it.  It’s a topic I can relate to.  I’m a worrier by nature, and situations such as graduate school exacerbate that stress.  I think my mom has lost track of how many freak outs I’ve had, many of which involved crying.

I, too, am stressed.  When I get stressed, I remember what my past students taught me.

See, my students didn’t know about my academic career.  They didn’t know where I graduated from, what honors I graduated with, what my accomplishments were, what other “professional experiences” I had.  What they did know was that I was Ms. R, the nice lady who would help them if they asked.  They knew I was there for them, that they could talk to me.  They knew that I would listen.

In academia, there is pressure, one that can lead a person to define their worth by their performance in the classroom.  What my students taught me is that a person’s worth is not defined by their accomplishments, their grades, their GPA.  They taught me that I value for reasons independent of any criteria for an essay, a research paper, a thesis.

They taught me what I knew already but didn’t fully understand.

As I sit in my office typing this blog post, I look around at the blank walls surrounding my desk.  Other TAs have put up posters in their offices.  I don’t have any posters to put up in my office.  What I do have, however, are drawings.  Drawings students have made for me over the years, visual “thank you” notes.  These drawings are currently sitting in my office at home; however, I think the belong in my office at school.  For when the stress starts feeling severe, I can look at them and be anchored by the memories of what my students taught me.

Writing Is My Addiction – Project Thankful #227

This week, I have two assignments due for my grad classes.  One assignment is to write a 400 word response to this week’s readings, 2 articles about the teaching of writing.  The other assignment is to write a 1000-2000 word blog post about another set of readings (different class).

I started off with the blog post.  At the time, I thought the blog posts had to be 2000-3000 words, not 1000-2000 words, so 2000 words became my goal.  About 1300 words into it, and I decided to re-read the assignment, realizing it only has to be between 1000 and 2000 words.  At this point, it’s going to be closer to the 2000 mark.

Then, there is the 400 word response letter.  At 587 words, I emailed the professor to ask if the letter can be over 400 words.  She wrote back that it can be “a tad over” but that she didn’t want to overwhelm us during the first week of school.  When I finally finished the letter, it’s 862 words.

My name is Lauren Rocha, and I am addicted to writing.

At Prospective Student Day for potential English graduate students, professors warned/gave the advice that there would be a lot of writing in graduate school.  Note: there is a lot of writing in graduate school (there is also a lot of reading, but that’s a subject for another blog post).  But here’s the thing: I love to write.  If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be a blogger.  Or self-published two books once upon a time (I recently made the decision to un-publish those books, but, again, a subject for a different blog post).  Or write in my spare time.

The point is, I love to write.  So, yeah, the blog post for the class and the response letter are technically homework assignments, but it doesn’t matter; they are still writing.

What I am going to do then?  I have two choices: I can edit myself; or, I can write on.

The sounds of my fingers hitting the keyboard answers the question.


On Trying to Avoid Freaking the Freak Out: Project Thankful #226

Tomorrow is the start of classes for students.  My students.  The 24 students who are signed up to take my class where am listed as the Instructor.  Tomorrow is also the start of classes for myself as well since I am a student as well as an Instructor.

Yeah, I am trying really hard not to freak the freak out right now.

Everything right now is a hazy, abstract image characterized by fluctuating swirls of constants.  I know what I have planned for my students tomorrow.  I know what my homework is for my classes.  I know when my assignments are due.  Yet, what I know keeps being shuffled around by what I feel.  I feel nervous, confident, insecure, inauthentic, knowledgable, and experienced all at once.  Mingled with those constants I listed, and I am somewhere between being grounded in the reality of my situation and gasping for oxygen at the high altitude of the mountain of my current anxiety.

What’s keeping me from totally freaking the freak out?  Fear.

I know, pretty weird answer to give.  But fear is something that can be controlled.  It’s something that must be understood in order to dissect its electric tendrils, examining the triggers so as to formulate a way to respond to them and their aftermath.

And so fear is what is keeping me from totally freaking the freak out.  More specifically, my understanding of my fear.  Fear of failure is one of my biggest fears I carry; tomorrow’s situation is exacerbating that fear. Yet, what’s keeping me from being paralyzed by this fear is my experience with this particular type of fear.  Heck, I’ve been dealt some crappy cards in my life, and sometimes I’ve made crappy decisions with those cards.  But whatever happened, I made it through to the next level.

“There has yet to be a problem that has ended the world.”  That’s what I tell students and others when talking about school related anxieties.  It’s not just the world, however; the same applies to my world.  I keep moving forward, through the fears, anxieties, and pressures I face.  Because that’s all any one of us can do.