These days, I mostly make a difference by reminding myself (constantly) that I am human. Of course, I don’t have to make sure to do this, my subconscious, faulty memory, and non-linear nature do this for me naturally. During office hours today, for example, I sat down to prepare a new assignment for a creative writing class only to think, half way through writing the assignment This seems oddly familiar. Oh, yes, last week. It was already familiar because I had anticipated my poor memory and had already prepared the assignment. Wednesday, to be specific, I had already written the instructions, fully anticipating that Monday, one of my busy teaching days, I could do something else with that time. Did I remember that? No, not until I was half an hour into repeating my own endeavors.
This realization came after seven Canvas emails that I received while I was teaching my first class of the day informing me that the due date I had on an assignment was from 2015.
And then I received the gentle 6X6 email reminder, and I remembered that I forgot to post last week’s entry.
It is so hard to juggle everything. And I have it pretty good: I already have my degrees. I live close to work and don’t have a long commute. I don’t have a part-time job on top of my full-time job. I simply get to teach. Our students have such full lives: they go to school and work. They go to school and work and parent. They go to school and work and parent and have extra-curriculars. As the average freshman composition writer might note, “And the list goes on.”
As a big picture person, I struggle anymore to get the details right. I think that youthful brain cells used to compensate for my propensity for forgetting the little things. But now that I’ve been teaching for well over two decades, I just don’t have that option any more. My young brain cells are middle-aged. They are forgetful, muddled, mixed up. They might not make it to the end of the paragraph in time to remember the point. That’s both a literal and figurative truth about my life right now.
My instinct is to be hard on myself. Other people (mostly on TV) make it look so easy. But I think to set a different example for our students. I admit my errors. I can now even say, “My bad,” without wincing. And I do so in public. In front of my classes or in conferences with my students or in emails with them. I say, “I was supposed to set the date for the assignment on Canvas for 2016, but instead it came out A.D. 201, and now everybody’s paper is flagged as late. Who knows why this happened?”
If I see a student trying hard to juggle it all, and that student is willing to communicate with me, I will be flexible. I will be understanding, and I will also encourage that student to see that it’s impossible (at least for me) to remember everything, and it’s OK. I’m slowly learning that forgetting details doesn’t mean the end of the world, and I try to share that new-found wisdom with my students. Last week a student emailed me, “I got the assignment done. I hit ‘save’, and in my head I was done two days early, and I could go on to my other classes’ assignments. I totally forgot to post it to Canvas though,” she admitted. At this point, I easily remembered how quickly I, too, forget. “Okay,” I wrote back. “Post what you have and remind me in the comments section of Canvas not to mark it late.”
Our students need encouragement. I know this because I, too, need encouragement–that reason to push past the stress and the deadlines and all of the multiple tasks and responsibilities that demand out attention seemingly simultaneously. While I seem to be forgetting most everything else these days, I can at least remember that.