I love a fresh start. It’s one of the reasons why I like New Year’s. It isn’t a resolution thing, I just like starting over. That has been evident throughout my life as I struggled to find the career that I wanted. It is also evident in the fact that I still can’t sleep the night before classes start. I lie awake in anticipation and excitement, with a little nervousness and fear, and wait for the alarm to go off so I can get up and get moving. One of the things that I find amazing about higher education is that we do the first day of school at least twice in every academic year. Every semester (or quarter) is a new batch of students. For me, I look at that new batch of students as a new set of personalities to interact with and learn from that I can also hopefully teach something along the way. Inevitably there are going to be some that have more interest in building relationship than others, and I am fine with that. One of my goals has always been to try to meet students where they are. I know that I am a special blend of teacher that is part teacher and part mom. In fact, my mother says that the first day I went to daycare they told her I was a mother hen. I’ve always been that way.
It has never been more important to me to make sure that the relational piece is happening when I am teaching. In the middle of a pandemic, we are fatigued with wearing masks and lonely from trying to stay apart. Our country has been through one of the most polarizing election cycles in recent history, with the potential for more ugliness to come as we transition to a new administration. The advent of social media has allowed us to stay in touch, but dehumanized others in a way that is unfathomable. My students have a harder time engaging because they can’t see the reactions of the people around them. We, as teachers, are having to do more and more just to meet the minimum, while we also deal with the world around us. How do we do that? How do we concentrate on the relational aspect of teaching with everything else that is flying at our heads?
A new semester is starting all over the world. Whether you began a couple of weeks ago or in the next couple of weeks, everyone has an opportunity to start over. It is a new book with clean pages just waiting for us to write the story of the semester. For me, I have an outline of what I want the book to say once it is done, but it is absolutely a rough draft. Things will happen that we didn’t plan for, both good and bad. Some things may take longer to teach than we thought, while others take much less time. Some days we are going to walk into our classrooms or sign on the computer only to figure out that our students simply cannot do what we had planned. Maybe they aren’t in the right headspace, maybe there are other things going on that are taking precedence, maybe they are just weary. Some days we are going to have the exact same problem. Starting over this semester will hopefully look like a lot of grace in your classroom and a lot of meeting where we are at the moment. I’m not saying that we don’t have to teach, and teach well. I’m just saying there is something to be said about allowing grace to flow throughout the process.
Regardless of if you are starting over with a fresh batch of students or continuing with the students you had in the fall, I urge you to make this semester a fresh start. Forgive the mistakes that were made in the past and allow them (and you) to start with a clean slate. Set the expectations high for the work we will all do this semester, and then give yourself some credit even when things go wrong. If you are still working on getting started for this new semester, check out Episode 10 of the podcast for some tips to help you get started. Enjoy the fresh start that happens after the Winter break and let your students help you write the book for this semester. You may be amazed at what happens when you do.