bitter, battle-hardened,
armed with baited breath
and toxins, 
build the bridge that
bares your losses,
you are the strongest

I don’t presume to know what this bald eagle is thinking, but I’d venture that he’s eyeing up a tasty fish. Though they were at one point added to the endangered species list for most parts of the US, we have quite a few bald eagles here in Western Wisconsin. They’re on the road to recovery.

Yesterday in class, I was talking with a student who has been through a lot: a difficult childhood, poverty, divorce, etc. She decided to embark on her technical college journey for a degree in accounting despite being a nontraditional student and having many qualms about her own abilities. I could practically hear her wringing hands after she passed me her narrative draft for feedback. The first “big essay” assignment.

Were there issues? Yes. Was it horrible? No. I pointed out some areas she could work on regarding structure and details, but she was on the right track.

She was pleasantly shocked. Her essays in previous English classes had always been coated in red ink, leaving her to completely doubt her ability in any writing class. I showed her what was working well already, and how to build off of that. She returned to her draft with newfound confidence, filling two or three more notebook pages. I have no doubt she’ll do just fine in our class.

Ah, the pre-Covid days of bringing lattes to the hospital to while away hours of receiving toxins directly into my veins. Good clean fun.

I’ve been teaching for over ten years now, and I’m starting to accumulate a bucket load of anecdotes like these. Sometimes I forget that I have some from my own life. Three years ago this week, I was wrapping up my second round of chemo and certain that my days were numbered. Certainly, I was a lone bald eagle and an uncertain student, but I’m still here today and less bald– bonus!

One of the amazing and beautiful things that I get to experience as a teacher is that every year is a fresh start. This is true of every semester now that I’m in the college realm full time. Every student brings their own story to the classroom, and I get to play a role in helping to further that story (metaphorically, and maybe even literally, depending on which story we’re talking). Many of them have their baggage when it comes to English classes, or writing more specifically, or interacting with people more generally. (I mean, who doesn’t have some weird social baggage post-Covid, if we’re being honest?)

The first day, everyone is sitting on their own, looking nervous, wondering what sorts of icebreakers we’ll do and how annoying I’m going to be. Three weeks in, students are exchanging social media info, swapping plans for the weekend, and feeling confident about their writing and themselves. I get to be a part of that, and it makes me so grateful. I think we all need a little fresh start from time to time, and we all need a little grace. Choosing to build an encouraging atmosphere isn’t going to be something that I regret as a teacher, but endangering someone’s fresh start is. So I’m cheering for those sometimes strange, slightly battle-hardened bald eagles.

9 thoughts on “Resuscitation

    1. Thanks, Stuart! When I first started teaching, I couldn’t figure out the magical piece that made some teachers seem so great. It took me a while to realize it wasn’t extra time lesson planning or extraordinary intelligence; they were mostly just being patient and real with their students. It also helped to age a bit and have some experiences to draw on in a moment’s notice lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m so glad to hear your students are talking to each other in class. My brother teaches college accounting and he says his students are glued to their phones and never interact at all.
    and your recovery is always worth celebrating! (K)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I think we all generally have a shorter attention span these days, so I try to include more changes of activity in my classes. I’m noticing that if I allow too much time in a small group discussion, about half of them will dive back into their phones rather than making small talk after they address the questions or goals of the group. I think it’s just more comfortable for many of them. Since I teach at a technical college, my students cover a wide range of ages and backgrounds, which has been really cool and helps to keep conversations going.

      Liked by 1 person

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