From the Other Side of the Desk: help me help you

April 13, 2011 § 16 Comments

Probably the single best part about the actual instruction involved with teaching is the motivation, the encouragement. I love it. I thrive on it. It happens all too infrequently.

Yesterday was a great teaching day. Class clicked along swimmingly (although discussion was a bit one-sided for my tastes), I had a few opportunities to demonstrate my generous benevolence, and I met with a few students in my office a full gasp! nine days before the paper is due! (That’s not meant to be read as sarcasm…I am truly astonished and thrilled.)

This paper that my students are writing is an experiment. All semester, I have asked them to consider the theme of “Identity” throughout these World Literature II texts. Generally speaking, I believe we’ve done a stand-up job. This final paper condenses a semester’s worth of lectures and thoughts into a single moment, a single exploration of the Self. I have assigned my students the weighty and nigh-on impossible task of crafting their own identities. They will interact with the literature, though, analyzing the authors’ approach to identity-making and mimicking as best they can the approaches that work best for them. I expect some creativity. I want some sparkle. This could be the last paper I read for quite some time (and at least until August–since I won’t teach this summer), so why not go out on an experimental high note? So far, I believe they are enjoying the journey. Many of them are relieved to find out that I’m fairly loosey-goosey on this particular assignment…unlike the first one which was very rules-y. (We must all learn to write in specific landscapes, yes?)

Yesterday’s good teaching day allowed me a moment’s meditation (and only a moment) on the loveliness of helping. And, in light of that, I’d like to write a short open letter to students everywhere.

To all students present and future:

To borrow a line from Jerry Maguire, please help me help you. Give me the chance to demonstrate to you my knowledge. Allow me the opportunity to attempt to motivate you. Ask me questions. Open up. Be honest. Reveal your insecurities, your concerns, your fears. Be receptive to my advice, my recommendations, my suggestions. Take notes while I expound on my answers to your questions. Demonstrate to me that you are actively listening. When I see you take notes, feverishly writing to keep up with my fevered counsel, a fire burns in my heart and I become proud. I become confident. I realize that I have something of value to offer you. Give me that chance because the more often you do so, the better my advice will be.

Let me celebrate with you. Tell me about the times when you broke through your Writer’s Block. Share with me the harrowing tale of your 2 a.m. Dorito’s and Mountain Dew bender at the library and the genius that pored forth from your fingertips to the keyboard. Recount for me the time you showed your classmate a rough draft in an impromptu peer review, and how it helped you. Give me the gift of collegial joy. I’m a writer, too. I can revel in your successes, too. I can live vicariously through your victories, your triumphs, your battles hard-won, too.

Help me help you.

Offer me a moment to teach you, to feel a burst of confidence when you promise to get it, and to experience the utter, bone-deep pride when you actually do.

Respectfully yours,
Mrs. H.

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§ 16 Responses to From the Other Side of the Desk: help me help you

  • Lisa says:

    Excellent letter Amanda. May I post it (with full acknowledgement of course) as a link on my class blog? By the way, thank you for your response to that post today as well.

  • I taught 4th grade for 16 years, and I know exactly what you mean when you write of getting excited when your students actively listen and participate fully in the learning process. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth for that to occur, but some days things just flow and it’s wonderful! You sound like a lovely, positive influence in your student’s lives.

  • AMo says:

    Yes!!! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • LOve this letter, Amanda! You really are a great teacher, even if it isn’t your favorite thing! Wish I were teaching so I coud use the letter, but I will save it for sometime in the future–well done!

  • Tim says:

    I’m circuitously reminded of a quote that is only really good for a laugh without more context (which I’ll try to sum up), but which, once you move beyond the laughter, is a great quote about the teacher-student relationship (so says the guy who isn’t teaching). Patrick Rothfuss is a fresh new writer with an incredible talent. He’s writing the last book in a fantasy trilogy right now, the first two being The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. I realize you aren’t going to have time to spare for pleasure reading until at least August, but I cannot say enough how highly I recommend these books – they are beyond phenomenal, and, with just two books, Rothfuss has managed to displace my former favorite living author, Gene Wolfe, who has a published library absolutely overflowing with exceptional titles. Once you have the time to spare for a pleasure read, I think you and Robert would absolutely love these books.

    In Wise Man’s Fear, the main character, Kvothe, is becoming frustrated with a certain teacher’s methods, so the teacher effectively turns him into an object lesson, comparing their subject of study (the magic of naming) to the concept of love. He compares the different styles of pursuing love – the casually meaningless probing conversations, the gradually budding friendships, the direct approach that could frighten away love before it has bloomed, and he then says that Kvothe is far more direct than all of these, indicating that his method would simply be to see a pretty girl, decide that he loves her, grab her breasts, then wonder why that didn’t work. He ends the lesson with this quote:

    “‘I am trying to wake your mind to the subtle language the world is whispering. I am trying to seduce you into understanding. I am trying to TEACH you.’ He leaned forward until his face was almost touching mine. ‘Quit grabbing at my tits.'”

    • Mrs. H. says:

      HAHAHAHA!! That’s awesome, Tim! Thanks for sharing–I’ll make sure that Robert sees this comment so that he can look into these books! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I LOVE your last assignment. The self and self-fulfillment is so interesting to me and is part of why I teach the memoir every spring. I’m sure your students will all do an awesome job!

  • […] my blogging friends, who also commented on my post here the other day, ย wrote a post called “From the Other Side of the Desk: help me help you”ย on her blog. The letter expresses what I believe most teacher’s (or at least the good […]

  • […] my blogging friends, who also commented on my post here the other day, ย wrote a post called “From the Other Side of the Desk: help me help you”ย on her blog. The letter expresses what I believe most teacher’s (or at least the good […]

  • ijsneoks says:

    It’s nice to know that there are teachers out there that still care, so personally, about their students and their academic lives. Your letter also helped me to remember that there are struggles on that side of the desk too. Thanks for sharing and thanks Lisa for reccommending it.

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Thanks so much for reading, ijsneoks. I’m so glad that my letter helped reinstate your faith in teachers! ๐Ÿ™‚ Lots of us really do enjoy helping our students, really! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Lisa says:

      Ila, thank you for commenting on this post and for coming over to read it. ๐Ÿ˜€

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