Today I worked through my anger and was able to empathize with my students.
Recently, I've found myself rage filled on a daily basis. I'm astounded by widespread human suffering, cruelty, and ignorance, and it angers me to see no solution for a problem that has permeated many countries, markets, and mediums. But today is World Kindness Day, so I'm attempting to channel my rage in a positive way.
I had to bestow a life lesson on myself this morning. I woke up early and was able to catch up on grading a class before I had to go to work. This should have been a win in productivity, but once again I found my anger level rising as I noticed multiple students who were missing work and who were dangerously close to failing.
My classes are not designed to torture students with excessive assignments or difficult exams. I feel that students learn best when they enjoy the material and when their grade is based on a variety of assessments, as different individuals excel at different types of evaluations.
Their poor performance began to make me furious - why were students doing poorly in a class that was designed with them in mind? I'm currently enrolled in a PhD program and I know how tough school can be. When there are deadlines and papers to write, life gets really hectic, really fast. But judging by their grades, my students seemed to be taking advantage of my class, and this made me upset.
As I sat there, sipping coffee and glaring at all the zeros, challenges from my own educational journey came to mind. I thought back to my first semester at FAU, after transferring from a local college. I had aced each course although my son had been born only one day after classes had begun. I thought back to graduate school, when I had gone through a divorce and drastic income reduction in the middle of my degree. I had taken a year off to become stabilized, but I had come back to college ready to excel! Why couldn't my students be like me? Why couldn't they overcome their own obstacles and turn in quality work on time?
And then it hit me. I wasn't empathizing with my students and the obstacles they may be facing in their lives, I was demeaning them for not meeting the benchmark I had set. I was minimizing them and their lack of "pulling themselves up by their bootstraps" and unjustly comparing my struggles to theirs, placing my ability to overcome at a higher worth. I was minimizing their life experiences, and because I was upset I was unable to properly experience compassion.
So I stopped. I stopped being angry, I stopped being hurt, I stopped being disappointed.
I went in to work and told my class I understand that life can throw insurmountable obstacles in your path. I understand that when this happens, school might become less of a priority. I told them that I just understand.
Of course I asked them to submit any assignments they were missing and reminded them of upcoming deadlines. But I also asked them how I could make the material more exciting, or at least palatable, as I know that the high percentage of failing grades has something to do with me as well. We had a great class and I'm confident that I'll get a few makeup assignments turned in during the next day or so.
As for the rage I feel on a daily basis, I think the unwillingness to bend or truly empathize with others is what allows hatred, mistrust, and anger to spread so easily. While we should have expectations of our fellow humans, we should also be willing to be the first person who trusts or smiles or admits they were wrong.