Thursday, October 6, 2011

Working my way back to you

I've been back from Japan a little less than a week, and while there hasn't been much of a respite from the work of catching up, the load hasn't been dispiritingly crushing, either.  You can't ask for much more than to feel like you are moving forward on important matters while you're still recovering from a week out of touch.

And so as I've hosted a representative from the partner organization for my class's service project; sketched a plan for a workshop I'm co-leading at a conference in two weeks; guided my students past their first experience with Pecha Kucha presentations; and mapped a schedule for the period leading up to midterm and fall break, I've also been working through the backlog of daily student work.  Priorities have been set and communicated to students according to what feedback is most essential at this point in the semester.

Most satisfying is that the service project in my handcrafting class has been launched, though I'm still getting anxiety vibes from students who don't think they'll be able to contribute at the level expected, or who want to make sure that they won't be penalized if they don't have as much time as others to devote to it.  I get really tired of reassuring them that no, everyone's not expected to do the same amount of work (different skills and speeds are an essential fact of life in the class), and yes, it's okay if the work is basic rather than intricate.  I don't understand why they don't trust me at this point to adjust for their skill level, seeing as I know it quite intimately, and why they don't believe me when I repeat that some people will make very little and some will make a lot and we'll all work together for a collective outcome.  The individual mentality is strong in these students, especially the ones in the sciences.  They don't seem to be able to grasp that we are not aiming in this project for an assessment of individual work but of group impact.  As long as everyone contributes what they're able, and push their skills and confidence level past their personal barriers, that's all I want in terms of their work.  More important by far is the connection we make to the people we're serving.

It's early days, yet, and this nervousness tends to calm down as we begin to see what our collective capacities really are.  I just wish that I could head it off at the pass, before it breaks out in the students, by saying the right things as we begin.  I tried this semester, but apparently I failed.  In the end, it comes down to whether they believe me -- whether they trust that my past experience with these matters is a sufficient guide to the present situation.  So far, they're taking a "believe it when I see it" attitude, rather than taking my word for it.  I hope that's not a larger reflection on my effectiveness.

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