It's also emotionally draining.
The class was safe enough until... until I decided to model vulnerability.
Earlier in the week I had this sudden burst of "omigod I was not organized enough and students don't have a rubric" - which is ironic, since this class is not supposed to be organized and students should be creating their own rubrics (if they really, really want one). The general ambiguity of the class - especially given the journey of the group and the difficulties of teaching without the benefits of a clear cut "everyone has the same" syllabus - was taking its toll on me. In near panic, I scrambled to send participants something I hate... and I hate it even in the "good" days: A rubric.
I hate rubrics.
I hate rubrics because I feel like I'm wearing a straight jacket when I use them. I hate rubrics because I find myself checking what the student does not have rather than what the student has. I hate rubrics because they have led me astray in the past - either I graded high someone who should have received a lower score or low someone whose work was great. I hate admitting it but my intuition does (and I cringe as I write it) work fine, thank you very much, in grading. Yes, (I cringe again, as I realize I'm saying something that will make my colleagues in the School of Education commit harakiri) I do know what's an A project and what's a B project and what's a C project. How do I know? I know. I've corrected enough projects to claim that knowledge. I don't need a rubric. And since I tell students exactly what problems I see and give them the chance to make changes, the rubric becomes even less necessary.
Problem is - when I tried to make the swamp look organized I failed miserably. My swamp was still a swamp with a few flower pots. I managed to confuse students. Why? Well, because my rubrics included something I had not asked people to do before. I included in the rubric a request for a power point - and apparently I had told the students they didn't need one. Oops.
Now, in spite of all that went on and in spite of theoretically an open culture (perhaps the word theoretical matters greatly here), only ONE upset student told me what had happened. What did I do then? For three days... nothing.
You see, it was the week of the HR development day, a monster of a project on which I've been working for months. I had about 50 people coming to Drake for this meeting + 7 experts, and enough detailed logistics to scare an accountant. I was miserable and drained and exhausted - and had no idea how to deal with the power point v. rubrics fiasco. It would have been easy enough to write the students immediately and tell them... hey you guys I messed up, no power point... but part of me got angry, part got tired, part was focused on the HR day, part wanted the year to end, part worried that one more letter to students would confuse them forever... and all those parts got me completely paralyzed. As I did nothing and kept going, I made the problem worse.
Of course this power point elephant was not in the open when the class started today. Heck, the class started great! People seemed polite and respectful to one another. The initial discussion went really well. The final presentations (with or without power points) seemed to go smoothly in the break rooms. Dinner was fine. After dinner I shared a new exercise: I divided people in 3 groups, sent the groups to separate rooms, and then asked each group to analyze a "court case" for which there was information in a sealed envelope. The twist? All three groups had the same case, but were given different information. In order to "solve" the case, they would have had to share that information right away.
Of course they didn't - not immediately. However they did share the information as soon as they returned to the room - which was actually quite good and amazingly fast. They also did manage to reach consensus fairly fast, with only one voice not heard. The discussion that followed - on the power of sharing information, on the various sides of a story, on the progress of the class in having respectful discussions - was lively and well participated, especially considering it was by then past 9 PM on a Friday night.
Then I brought up the power point. I specifically brought it up as an example of the complexities of a case - of the different angles. I told them I had messed up. I told them I had gotten paralyzed. I asked them why they hadn't said something. I asked them why I was sharing that whole story with them.
Vulnerability, a student said. You're modeling vulnerability. You're modeling learning from mistakes.
Yes, I was. Reasonably effectively. The scary parts? One, it's scary to admit the mistake. It's scary to look into the eyes of the supporters and see disappointment. To tell you the truth, that disappointment was there already - it just hadn't come into the open. However, for a person whose motto used to be "if you have something mean to say about me go ahead and say it behind my back, this way I won't have to deal with it" this was a major challenge.
However, do you know what's even scarier? The thought that even as I admitted a mistake the conversation was still positive towards me. That makes me feel ucky inside... as if I were manipulating them into thinking "look at her, so honest, so open, wow..." I hate that. I don't want them to say wow... I want them to think of how they can be open as leaders. It's about them, not about me.
And yet... it's about me too. Because I'm human, right? And as a human being I want to be right and I want to be liked and I hate feeling incompetent in front of my students. I'm also Brazilian and Brazilians are more about "let's hide stuff and smile about it" and "let's save face like heck" than about openness. A typical Brazilian will be indirect and will say that honesty is way overrated. And I'm as typical as they get when it comes to openness... right there in the indirect side. I hate being open.
So it's about them, but I can't take myself out of the picture. I'm in the picture. I'm a casualty of war.
War - strong word... I don't think I used it lightly. I think I used it on purpose. I'm not sure I know why yet.
So... why am I doing this? Why am I doing something so hard?
Because I'm a teacher.
Because I care.
Most importantly, because this class is about OUR learning, not about MY comfort.
And OUR learning requires that we appreciate the various sides of a problem. OUR learning requires that we understand the complexities of human relations. And yes, OUR learning requires that we become more comfortable with ambiguity and swampy issues. Change is messy. Change isn't structured. Change has no rubrics.
My comfort is a casualty of war - the war that's raging inside me. The war between fear and courage. The war between holding steady and letting go. The war between leadership and authority.
Yikes..I know no one said leadership was easy but....I'm truly aching for easy tonight.