In my professional life, I do a really good job of keeping it together. I can check my baggage at the door, and while I have bad days like everyone else, I can be mindful about keeping other stuff out of my work, my teaching.
Yesterday I kicked a student out of my class for using the F-word. It was the third time I’ve confronted that student about some disruptive behavior (not that I’m counting.) I went on with class, engaging with the working students, as the student I asked to leave took her sweet time picking up her stuff and shuffling out of the room, grumbling the whole time. After class ended, three students came up to me to apologize for the way class ended. Initially I was touched, but as I thought more about it, I realized that my cracks are showing.
This particular class challenges my patience and creativity in ways which are exhausting. They are noisy, disjointed, and they don’t like each other very much. They are like a particularly smart virus. Every time I find some strategy that calms them, they mutate and reform into a chaotic mess. Many of them have significant personal challenges which they lack the emotional strength to handle. Yesterday was not the first time I have stopped class to cajole or lecture or discipline someone. I hate doing it every time. I have even said to them that I am not interested in managing their childishness. After all of these moments, yesterday was the first time that any one of them came up to me after class to apologize. Something was different, and that something was me.
After the class, I went directly to the Education Director’s office to relay what had happened. As we talked, I found my lost compassion and tried to consider what that student was going through. We talked over the incident, neutrally, with humor. Then, the ED leaned across her desk towards me. “Are you okay?” she said, “You seem a little overwhelmed this week.”
Cracks. Opening. I am overwhelmed. Usually by midterm, I can find some source of delight in every group, even the ones who challenge me. I have lost the delight. The first three words I can think of to describe my students this term are: “blood sucking vampires.”
And that, of course, is what happens when self-care gets neglected. I have had some adjustments to my personal life that have left me a little raw. I thought I could manage the baggage, because I have before, but clearly I am not taking care of myself very well. It is a teachable moment, and the first student to benefit from it is myself.