Learning Curves (and bumps)

I have a new job. And I’m learning.

I love learning.

I wish I could say my students were all as equally passionate about the notion.

But the learning curve for some is steeper than others. I’ve noticed there’s a particularly rough grade for freshmen. Generally, though, the incline has little to do with what’s happening in the classroom. It’s all that other stuff.

Whether they fully believe it or not, they (and their problems) aren’t so unusual and they’re not nearly as unique and special as mommy and daddy have told them.

I don’t often offer up that reality-check, though.

The truth is that when they’re in the midst of their stuff, I’m right in there with them. I can’t trivialize the parts of school and life that tie them in knots. I get that in the moment, it—whatever it is—is the whole world. It’s inwardly turned hyperfocus on steroids, but myopically blurred. And even if my vantage point affords a clearer vision of where they stand and where they might be going, I can’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t. For starters, I can only help connect the dots beginning where they are now. I don’t have the full picture, don’t fully know where they’ve been.

In spite of all they share—and they share a lot—whatever I learn is filtered through the rainbow prism of their eyes. That’s a bad thing. And a good one. Bad because it’s completely skewed. Good because it is fully their version of their own lives, the only one with which I really need concern myself. Their egocentric view helps me connect better to the tilt of their plane, helps me decide on how hard to push. I wish I could say the solution was as neatly set as a2 + b2 = c2. It isn’t. I have no surefire mathematical equation on which to rely. There aren’t any hard and fast rules in their simply complicated lives.  

Instead, I puzzle together answers from questions they can’t always articulate.

What I do know is that before they can start the research or writing or—not often—math and economics, they need to clear some space in their brains. They need to start somewhere—maybe at the edges—before they can link pieces from piles of disconnected colors.

When I first started this job I didn’t know clutter clearer would be one of my roles or that my vision might help my students see more clearly. We work together, one piece at a time, and then maybe a step away. And then back—to see the picture slowly emerging—of who they are and who they are becoming.

We all start at the base of our own learning curves. How well we scale the peak and how circuitous our routes can be pretty varied, but there is no singularly right way. At least not from my vantage point.





Their successes aren’t mine.

But I do get to live vicariously.

Whether they’re my own kids (organic, as one of my peers suggests) or my students (inorganic), I get to share in momentous happenings on a timeline from which I’m pretty far removed. Even as adults, these young people I know are still going through a lot of firsts.

With school, and jobs and significant others. With life.

Will wants to make our recent meeting a monthly event. Erica updates me through text. Lisa just got a promotion –again.

These are the graduates.

But this week I’ll start with a new crop of freshmen. And even as I know that most of what they’ll be going through as individuals, I’ve likely seen before, I can’t help but get caught up in those firsts.

First times are awesome.

But scary.

And I still get that.

So whether they’re excited or worried, or confused, or just plain afraid, I’ll tell them that it’s okay. That it’s normal. And that in spite of the outward appearance of their fellow classmates, they are not alone.

Some of my students inadvertently flaunt their newness with the bright green beacons they wear around their necks in the form of id-toting lanyards. Others are outwardly confident, sapping from stored supplies of high school popularity, probably not understanding how quickly it can drain. But most are quietly cautious, just trying to navigate this new terrain without tripping onto a land mine, without making any mistakes.

We all make mistakes, though.

Maybe that’s the first lesson freshmen should learn, loud and clear.

Sure, we want them to succeed, not to do anything really stupid that winds them up in trouble—or worse—their first days on campus. But even if they screw up, it’s not like they will be the first ones to have done so.

I won’t tell them that –not initially anyway.

And I won’t share my own stories –probably ever.

But it’s those stories I pull from to gather empathy.

Because once upon a time, I was young. And on occasion (rare), I probably did something stupid.