Beyond the Buildings: Project Thankful #230

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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.

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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.

Project Thankful: Reason #224

In a couple of weeks, I will start my journey as a graduate student as well as starting teaching.  The couple of weeks before a semester begins are always the most chaotic, leaving one feeling with a sense of “How is everything going to get done?”  Between student loans (or as I like to think of them, adding time to my debt sentence), homework (yes, even before classes officially start I have assignments due), lesson planning, and transitioning into a new living space, it’s overwhelming to begin to think about all that is on my To Do list.

Today was such an example.  First, I had to call the cable company about my service.  Next, I had to call Financial Aid about my Fall bill.  After that, I had to complete Entrance Counseling for my graduate loans which not only took away time, but also optimism about my financial situation.  To cap it all off, I had laundry I needed to do.

By the time I was finished with as much as I could do for today, the couch was beginning to look like my best friend.  I sat down, and I realized I had two choices: to wallow in the “Why me?” of how much I have going on right now; or, to keep moving forward.  Because when life gives us a challenge, or challenges, those are basically our two options: dwell on the negative; or, continue to go on, using an inner calm to put all that negative into perspective.

Whenever my worrying starts to creep into the Red Zone, I remind myself of the things that calm me down.  I like to think of them as my anchors, the things that cause me to pause.  Some are little, but hey, sometimes it’s the little things that can make the largest impact.

My family

My cat

Chocolate milk

Chocolate

Reading a book

Facebook

Closing my eyes and forcing myself to listen to what’s outside my windows

Going outside

There are more (including more that involve chocolate).  For now, I think I’ve regrouped enough to tackle another item on that To Do list for today.

 

Project Thankful: Reason #208

Tomorrow is July.

I’m always thankful for the end of the month.  The end of June is something bittersweet, however.  On the one hand, June was a chaotic month, and one where I thought more things would happen.  An odd thing to say given that so much did happen in June.  The school year ended, I found an apartment, I got even more items for said apartment, I received my teaching materials for the fall, and more.  On the other hand, now that June is ending, the countdown is on for when I move and for when I need to have my syllabus ready for the fall. I’ll be balancing the roles of Instructor and Student come September which means I have to be prepared for both of those roles.  

I have a feeling I’ll be eating a lot of chocolate in July.

Project Thankful: Reason #174: Cookie Dough Days

Yesterday was a cookie dough kind of day.

The thing about a parent losing their job and being unemployed is that the stress of a parent losing their job and being unemployed never goes away.  It stays with you like a stain on your favorite shirt.  You look in the mirror, trying not to concentrate on that one spot on your entire outfit, but it’s still there and you do notice it, even though the logical part of your brain reassures you that it’s fine, you still look great, no one can even see it.  If you try to cover it up, you end up twitching all day to make sure the covering is securely in place lest the stain reveal itself.  Or, you might decide “the hell with it” and just wear the shirt as is, stain and all, with your head held high, staying strong in your conviction that “who cares?”.  

But you care.  Because that stain is still there.  No matter how distracted you might be, or how otherwise self-confident you are, when you look in the mirror your eyes will instinctively go towards that stain.

The “stain” was more visible yesterday.  I found $2 in the Computer Lab by where a boy had been sitting.  I asked him if he had dropped money.  He paused, turning red, and hesitantly answered “Probably.”  I gave him the money, and as he was leaving the room I heard him say to one of his friends “I didn’t drop any money.”

Well, I over-reacted.  I reported the incident to the teacher who immediately went to get to the bottom of the issue.  As I stayed with the next class who was waiting to begin, I felt embarrassed, vulnerable, and raw that I had over-reacted.  I don’t like anyone taking advantage of my kindness, but when it involves money I am more sensitive, especially given what’s happened recently with my dad.

I felt like Kristen Wiig’s character in “Bridesmaids” when she’s working at a jewelry store and a teenager comes in asking for a friendship bracelet for her best friend’s birthday, and Kristen Wiig’s character starts grilling the girl, taking out her own friendship frustrations on the girl.

And so, yesterday was a cookie dough kind of day.  The type of day where your life feels raw with the hard chocolate chips not evenly dispersed throughout the dough.  And all you can do is savor the sweetness while seeing what a mess it makes on your hands, telling yourself that one day the dough will get baked. 

Project Thankful: Reason #158

I have a doctor’s appointment in Boston on Wednesday which means I have to take the day off from work to head into the city.  While not getting paid for the day sucks, the chance to go into Boston, on a weekday of all days, is something I look forward to.  It’s a change-up from my day-to-day, and an opportunity to do something that is strictly for myself (in this case literally, as the doctor I am seeing is the one who helps with my Celiac Disease).

With all the stress from my dad losing his job and coming to accept that I will be moving in the near future and starting grad school in the fall, I’m finding that I need to remind myself to find moments where I focus on me, and just me.  Taking the day off for a doctor’s appointment is just that.