Monday, August 24, 2009

The Night Before The First Day

It doesn't matter how old I am, the night before school starts is always filled with emotion. I'm practically giddy with excitement. Wonder if I'll sleep well tonight? My cohort returns to campus tomorrow, and many I have not seen since April. I've missed them.

It's funny, in a way, when I think back to last year and compare how I'm feeling now to how I felt then. My job is to be a "Mentor Leader," which means that I teach the same cohort of students every semester for two years. We become a little family - often dysfunctional, but a group that learns to rely on each other because no one can really understand what they are going through but them. My first cohort graduated in May, and that, combined with a depression like no other I have ever experienced caused me to be in mourning a good bit of the summer of 08. Thank God for Lexapro, is all I have to say. Having experienced a depression that deep and that intense, I can honestly say I never want to be there again. I can also honestly say that I am thankful for it, because coming out of it gave me a new appreciation for life, and a new commitment to being present in the life I've been given. Yeah, it sounds sappy, but it's true. I may write about that at some point. Not tonight, though.

Anyway, last fall when this new cohort arrived I really wasn't ready for them, mentally or emotionally. It took every bit of energy I had to to psyche myself up for orientation. It was easier than before, as this was my second group, but also hard, in that the faces I had grown accustomed to seeing would never be all together again. I missed their presence and their energy. Yet, here I had a group who needed me to focus on them, and to learn about who they are and all that they had to offer. I had to focus on them, and the mourning had to stop.

One of the things I learned early on as a teacher is the importance of building relationships and connections with my students, so I embarked on that process. I'm not sure where the turning point was, but I do remember a point where I started "getting" this group. I also remember a number of "Come to Jesus" meetings that I had with a few of them, as well as one with the whole group last January. The whole group one was because they weren't gelling, and it had become problematic. Some of them had to take ownership of the group, otherwise we would be in for a long, painful journey.

And they did. They took it and ran with it, and finally broke out of a lot of the little cliques and started functioning as a group for the most part. It took a lot of effort, but I think as a whole they now genuinely care for one another.

I think, also, the fact that I supervised all of them at some point and talked with them individually frequently, plus required them to conference with me at the end of each semester made a difference, too. Talking with each one of them "one on one," and helping them to realize that I care about them as people, as well as letting them know their strengths and weaknesses helps them to see that I'm in their corner. I'm very good at my job, I genuinely care about my students, and this is something that most of them come to appreciate with time.

So tomorrow, there is no dread. I don't have to psyche myself up at all. I can't wait to see them and get a sense for how they are doing, other than through facebook. I am already so proud of how far they have come, and I can't wait to see what connections they make this year - a year of amazing growth as both women and teachers. They have no idea how different they will be in April. And I get to sit back and watch - savoring the process yet again. This feeling is why I would teach for free.

April 2009 - end of Junior year

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