Leadership Potential: A reflection on my spring 2018 semester

June 17, 2018

I’ve submitted grades for both of my ENGL 400 courses, so I figured today was as good a day as any to do some reflection and talk about these classes.

In my 7:30 a.m. class, one of my students reminded me of Michael Peña’s character in Ant-Man.

I swear to you, almost every single day he came to class with a story like Luis’s. It was what happened to him at the gym, how he and his girlfriend got in a fight, what happened with his neighbors. Once he told us he almost got in a fight with a dude because he thought the dude was hitting on his girlfriend but it turned out the dude was in fact hitting on him. (“Did your girlfriend try to fight him then?” I wanted to know. The answer was no. Apparently, she didn’t care that this dude was hitting on her boyfriend.) We always got a recap of what happened in his day.

That class was notoriously quiet, and he was by far the most talkative (okay, he was really the only person who talked), so he really brightened up the class. He was absent a couple of times, and the class just wasn’t the same without him. He always made us laugh. Or disrupted what was supposed to be quiet work time because he just had to say something. (I understand this. I frequently interrupt my own students when they’re working quietly because I get bored.)

My 9:45 a.m. class had a different chemistry. The students in that class were generally talkative. They asked a lot of questions and contributed a lot to class discussions. The same material that could take 15-20 minutes to cover in the 7:30 class might take up until our break in the 9:45 class. So, yeah, just a different chemistry.

The 9:45 class also had some different personalities, including one student who I dubbed “The Professor.” Why “The Professor”? Because during class, she would often answer other students questions, tell them to read the syllabus (or the directions), explain a concept I was trying to get across so that her classmates could understand, and get frustrated when they didn’t seem to be paying attention. One time, I asked one student (let’s call him C) a question, and she started to answer. I stopped her and said to let him answer, and she said, “Yeah, C. You answer. Don’t let loud people like me talk all over you.”

I LOVE HER. (I mean, obviously, I don’t have favorite students, but if I did, she would be a contender.) She reminds me so much of myself in school. I was a bit (“a bit”) of a bossy* know-it-all in my youth (which I guess is also now, ha!).

I told her very early in the semester that she should consider doing my job. She visibly blanched when I said that, so I pointed out she didn’t have to be an English professor but could be a professor in her chosen field. Since she’s planning to be a nurse, I pointed out that there are nursing professors and that’s something she should keep in mind.

(*As an aside, and very seriously, my daughter reminded me not to call girls bossy, so I never, ever describe this particular student as “bossy,” but always say that she has leadership potential, and I can tell you that it definitely feels different to say leadership potential. In fact, if I hadn’t thought “leadership potential” instead of “bossy,” I probably would have never connected that this student would make an excellent professor. Language matters. The way we think about our students matters.) (Oh, and I see now that it’s actually “leadership skills” instead of potential. Oh well. The sentiment holds.)

Anyway, I share all of that because this is what The Professor wrote in her final reflection:

My professor also taught me that it’s okay to be myself.

And that is honestly one of the best things any of my students has ever said about my teaching.

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