In the middle of tutoring the other day, my student turned to me and said, “It seems too easy.” I couldn’t understand why she was missing questions on a quiz that she usually got right. I pointed out the answers to her and she said “Yeah, but shouldn’t it be harder than that?”
My next student seemed to need a road map of our tutoring session. If I said we were going to practice reading strategies he wanted to know if we were going to correct the homework. If I said I wanted him to do extra practice on subject-verb agreement he needed to know if that was part of the homework or if he needed to do it right then. Despite my assurances that we would cover all the material, every instruction I gave was followed with “Yes, but are we going to,” just to make sure I stayed on track.
I could take each of these situations personally, and assume my students’ reactions are a poor reflection on my teaching ability, but at the end of that day, something bigger occurred to me. I wasn’t worrying that I was a crappy teacher. What was painfully clear was that my students are a reflection of me.
That student who asked about things being too easy had done so on the same day I got the perfect (second) job and was feeling uneasy. I had turned to my boyfriend and said, “Everything is turning out the way I had hoped it would. When is the other shoe going to drop?”
The other student, who needs the frequent updates, is like watching myself in replay when I’m in any new situation, “What do I need?”, “Where am I supposed to go?”, “How am I supposed to do that?” I want just as much direction as he does.
It’s as if fate is gift-wrapping life lessons and placing them in front of me, shaped like high schoolers trying to pass the ACTs. I could almost pull a string and hear my own insecurities come out of my students’ mouths.
The next week I worked with a different student on an essay. After weeks of perfecting her structure, tone, and style, the paper she handed-in to me was fabulous. I was proud in the way I suspect parents feel when their child has removed the training wheels from their bike or hit their first home run in little league. I could see her hard work on the page in the well crafted sentences that, just the week before, had errors, and I noticed the choices she was making in structuring her argument were based on things that I had recommended. I wasn’t just noticing her hard work–I was noticing mine.
Likely, these students have been assigned to me simply because my teaching style matches their learning style. But, maybe it’s something more–a shared intention reflected in our actions and reactions to one another. As if we take turns learning, whether the material is grammar or how to live life.
Whichever the case may be, the next time I’m standing in front of the mirror in the morning, when I could be repeating affirmations or mantras, I’m going to think of my students and ask myself, “What do we need to know today?”