All the things right now

My friend Christina found a great picture for a slideshow we presented yesterday that I lovingly named “shame cat” I could not find that picture so here is my sad attempt at “shame cat v. 2.0”

This has been quite the last 48 hours.  (FYI: This is a long post and messy because I’m thinking through all the things)

I didn’t study for my Chinese final.  I did prepare the written essay portion because I knew what the essay topic would be, but honestly, I had a pretty weak grasp of the vocabulary from the last 2 chapters and couldn’t/didn’t attend class for the last two weeks of the semester because of the Thanksgiving and conference travel.

I don’t know what I thought would happen when I took the final, that the vocabulary I hadn’t studied or practice might have magically been retained, I guess.

But, of course, that is not what actually happened.

I literally began laughing (quietly) at my own ignorance during the exam as there were entire SECTIONS of the final that I felt like I really couldn’t even engage with.

I did what I knew I could do, put the pinyin for what I remembered when I couldn’t remember the hanzi (characters) and did the best I could.  Then I turned in the final and knew I hadn’t done as well as I could have.

It was weird.

My whole life and most of the first 40 years of my life have been centered around performing well, always giving 100% and being successful.

And I literally walked out thinking that there was no way I could have gotten higher than a C on that exam.

Yet, strangely, I didn’t care that much.

I mean, yes, study and prepare for courses.  That’s important.  Of course, that’s true and I still believe it.  If you don’t, you won’t do as well as you could do. Cause –> consequences.

But, also, what did I do with that time that could have been dedicated to reviewing vocabulary?

I spent time with my family and friends after a grueling back-to-back conference with holiday in the middle season.  I wrote. I survived. I worked.  I did life.

And I actually learned a lot of Chinese.

What I did know was what I needed a Chinese class to learn–the structures of the language and (to some degree) the pronunciation.

I can look up vocabulary, but without the fundamentals of learning language structures and being comfortable with being uncomfortable (i.e. through speaking and interacting), I can’t grow in Chinese.  And I knew that even if I got a B as my overall grade (I had done enough to do well enough in the class that even a poor final wouldn’t have completely killed my overall grade), I had fulfilled my goal for learning which was really what mattered.

Like I said, it was weird.

After “failure” #1, I prepared to have my last class.  I knew I was doing too much, trying to cram 3 hours worth of work into 2 hours worth of a final time, but you know, my life is all about trying to make the most of time.

I get to class. I figure out how to adapt our first activity. We have an AMAZING returning teacher panel. Things are looking up.

And then, we get to our closing activity which is generally my favorite moment of the semester — the web of learning, where my students reflect on what they’re taking away (new ideas) from the course and leaving behind (ideas that have shifted) after the course.

The final student who spoke this semester said something that literally shattered me for a moment about how focusing on mindfulness and compassion can actually highlight feelings of isolation for certain students in the classroom.  I could see and feel his pain as he spoke these words.

This was much more devastating to me than a B in Chinese (obviously).

If you know me IRL, you know that my life is about humanizing education, about making visible people, ideas, and learning that is often invisible, about supporting people to express their experiences in their lives.  So this was super hard to hear, and it was a hard way to end the course which had really put compassion and mindfulness at the center.

But then, it wasn’t.

Perhaps his voice was a reminder to me to decenter myself and my goals and think about what the limits of my well-meaning attempts at reminding students to be compassionate and mindful actually were in practice.

I don’t know.

I’m still processing his words to be honest.

But in the midst of this and of many other students thanking me for the course and for enacting compassion and mindfulness in my practice (in and outside of the classroom), I’m learning to accept that this feeling of having failed this student may or may not be true and that I may not be the person to support each student.  And that I can’t be responsible for each of my student’s experiences in the classroom.

That’s hard, but it’s also real.

As I was working through this, yesterday, I gave a presentation for the first time yesterday to a group of student teachers and experienced a super blatant and ridiculous micro-aggression.

I had just finished this presentation on professionalism and a random student teaching supervisor who I did not know said to me, “Could you stop saying okay and right every word? I couldn’t even understand what you were trying to say; it was so distracting.”

I have NO IDEA how many times I said okay and right.  This is a speaking style I likely used because : 1) I was nervous; and 2) because when I am giving a presentation in which I am speaking at length, I appreciate these interjections (okay? right?) as a colloquial way for students to express affirmation and understanding of what I’m saying.

This person made ZERO comment on the content of the presentation, the preparation that went into it, did not come towards me in the middle of the presentation when there was a break for an interactive moment to gently let me know that this speaking style was challenging for her.  She said it as I was on the way to give a second presentation, flippantly, as the only interaction I’ve ever had with her.

I was taken aback.  I looked at her and just said, “Um, okay, right.” (really, I think that’s what I said).  It was so ridiculously inappropriate.

And, today, it’s the 7th anniversary of the killing of 20 children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook elementary where my nephew was in 2nd grade at the time of the shootings.

I’m trying to finish grading, coordinate church things, pick up my child, do all the things.

And I’m out of time to write this post.  I’ve gotta get my kid from Tae Kwon Do.

All the things, big and little, they add up. They matter. They weigh heavy or they don’t but they carry weight.

But, if you could, extend grace and compassion to someone today.  You may have no idea of all the things they’re carrying.  And your words may carry more weight for them that they don’t really have strength to bear.

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