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.