(E)motion Sickness

Wrong Way signMost of my many school vis­its have been amaz­ing, pos­i­tive adven­tures (see my post titled “Trav­el­ing Like a Rock Star”). A few of my vis­its have fea­tured minor bumps in the road. And one school vis­it — thank good­ness, one only! — might be bet­ter described as a major traf­fic incident.

It hap­pened when I was still a “new­bie” to school vis­its. I was vis­it­ing this par­tic­u­lar school for a week. On Day 1, a stu­dent came up front to read his sto­ry, got overex­cit­ed, and threw up all over my shoes. Unfor­tu­nate­ly I didn’t heed that case of car­sick­ness for the fore­shad­ow­ing that it was.

It turns out that hav­ing my shoes soiled paled in com­par­i­son to what hap­pened next: I found out that one of the teach­ers I was work­ing with thought that my approach to teach­ing writ­ing was com­plete­ly wrong. At first I assumed this was a “fix­able” dif­fer­ence. The teacher and I talked at length sev­er­al times over the remain­der of the week. I mod­i­fied my approach in many ways.

But I nev­er man­aged to get it “right.” I left the school feel­ing like a fail­ure. It remains the most emo­tion­al­ly dif­fi­cult expe­ri­ence of the twelve or so years I’ve worked as a writ­ing instructor.

In some ways, it’s too bad that this expe­ri­ence hap­pened dur­ing my ear­ly years of class­room vis­its. If it hap­pened now, I’d be bet­ter able to nav­i­gate the unset­tled waters and come up with a way to sal­vage the week for every­body involved.

But it might also be seen as one of the most impor­tant things I’ve ever learned: I now know what it feels like to be told by a teacher that I’m bad at some­thing writ­ing-relat­ed. As Over­achiev­er Kid, that was nev­er part of my own school expe­ri­ence. But because of that week, I gained a new lev­el of under­stand­ing for those stu­dents who strug­gle — and con­tin­ue to fail — at writ­ing. It was (e)motion sick­ness induc­ing for me, but from that day for­ward I’ve made it a prac­tice to find some­thing pos­i­tive to say about every student’s writ­ing, to soft­en what­ev­er less-than-hap­py news has to follow.

Those of you who have more train­ing as edu­ca­tors than I do prob­a­bly know oth­er tac­tics to help moti­vate the kids who “just can’t seem to get writ­ing right.” Maybe some of you will share your ideas as com­ments below?

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Lynne Jonell
7 years ago

Wow, what a great sto­ry. Thanks for shar­ing the tough moments. I’d love to hear more sometime!