Thursday, March 27, 2014

SOL: It's Okay to Smile

It happened nearly three years ago, but I still think almost daily about a moment--it should have been insignificant--between me and a man slightly older than my dad on the steps of the Administration Building nearly three years ago. 

I don't remember what I was doing there, if I was in the process of changing my name or if I was dropping something off there as a favor for my boss, but as I opened the door to leave the building, I saw a man, a professor maybe, heading my way up the steps. I must have been in a pretty good mood because I actually looked up at him as he walked toward me instead of quickly glancing up and looking back down at the concrete as I usually did when I came across anyone on campus. 

This time, I pressed my lips together and pulled the ends toward my ears and gave him a pathetic excuse for a smile. I don't remember the look he gave me, but I imagine it to be a kind and friendly smile, and he said a simple phrase before moving past me into the cool building: 

"It's okay to smile," he said. 

For some reason I needed that verbal permission to look people in the eye and give them a real smile. My original looking-down habit might have come from one too many faces meeting mine with blank stares, simply looking past me. Walking back down the steps of the ASB, though, my habit made a 180* turn, and I started to look into people's faces. It became a focus on my walks home--who could I smile at? Could I pass the permission to smile on? 

I still get people who pretend like I don't exist (I'm sure I do the same sometimes), and there are days when I'm not feeling quite social enough or just a little too stressed and I keep my face angled toward the ground instead. These days come more and more frequently toward the end of a semester. I'm realizing, though, that looking at the people I cross paths with and giving them a genuine smile that says, "Hi!" or "I hope you have a good day," makes me feel better, too. It's obvious and simple, but it's easy for me to forget. So now, I'm telling you: 

It's okay to smile.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

SOL: planning, preparation, performance, and second chances

I plan very effectively. Several of my professors have commented on this habit of mine, and I have been very proud. But in these past couple of weeks I have discovered that planning well and performing well are not the same things.

My sweet sister who just had her seventeenth birthday has the best English teacher in the world, at least according to her--one great enough to inspire her to be an English teacher herself. Every time we get together she tells me that she has a million ideas for her future classroom that she would be happy to share with me. Last Saturday we were shopping for her birthday (I, of course spent too much, while she got nothing) when I was telling her about a disaster of a lesson that I had taught the previous day on in-text citations. She said, "Oh, I'm sure you did better than you thought." When I told her she had never seen me teach, she reminded me that she had been in my audience when I videoed the lesson I turned in for the English teaching application.

Then she laughed. Admittedly, it was not great. I was nervous, I had never taught before, and I was teaching a boring lesson (that I had done my best to make not-so-boring). I hope I have improved. But I still felt a little pain--I think it's rooted in my desire to be great at everything I do.

I'm sure all of my English teaching buddies know how disappointing it is to spend hours creating a lesson that follows all of the guidelines that we have been taught, expecting it to go smoothly and the students to at least learn something, if not enjoy it, then get into the classroom and the lesson is enough for those students to want to poke their eyes out. This has happened for nearly every lesson I've taught.

It happened again two weeks ago with a lesson on in-text citations, surely not the most exciting topic. I had spent many hours preparing this 40-minute lesson, and I felt confident that it would go well, with an interesting response to a paragraph about American culture and masculinity that I was sure would spark some sort of debate. The students were bored out of their minds, and I came home defeated once again. It's scary that after teaching only six lessons in a classroom, I was ready to give up, change my major back to English, maybe not graduate at all.

The following Tuesday, though, I got an email from Becky asking if I wanted to come in and teach the lesson again to another class on Thursday. I asked her for revision ideas, and then spent the next two days revamping my original lesson plan, creating another handout and clearer instructions. The second time still did not go as well as I hoped, but the work the students did was noticeably less error-ridden and they were more engaged.

Sometimes teaching hurts. Most of the time I'm not prepared to accept elements of failure. And almost all of the time it's hard for me to see what I did well. I've heard it and said it a million times, but we all learn from our failures: it's our responsibility, duty, opportunity to get back up and try again when we're given a second chance.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SOL: Me Monster

As an English Teaching major married to a Chemical Engineering student, I spend a lot of time at home alone, reading, writing lesson plans, and procrastinating papers. One thing I was not expecting when I began to date Michael more seriously was how quickly my relationships with my girl friends would dwindle. Of course, when we finally get together over lunch at Guru's or Zupa's or even the Cougar Eat, we talk just the way we used to. It's the frequency of the talks, one every two or three months, that eats me. Girls, you know there are some things that just aren't the same when you talk to your significant other about them. Over the past three years, I have handled this seclusion on a scale of crying every night to basking in the peace and quiet. But now the peace and quiet has gone on too long. Something terrifying is happening to me.

In high school, I considered myself the good listener--it was one of my redeeming qualities. I would spend hours driving around American Fork or up the canyon, even up through Alpine, while my friends while they talked about their lives. (Unless you were Quinci. Dear Quinci, I'm sorry that I did way more than my fair share of talking without listening. But I am really grateful for you.) Boys. Girls. School. Drama. Religion. Family. The Past. The Future. I listened to it all, nodding my head, bestowing pieces of sage advice before inviting my dear friend to continue. I loved it because of the connection I felt to those people, because of the love I could feel growing through understanding. It was my identity.

I've lost that part of me and I don't know where to find it.

I had noticed it before, but last week I finally had an experience that grabbed hold of my backpack and wrenched me around to face the truth. I ran into Jessica at the library as we both dropped off our library books, and she asked me the question. The one that opens the floodgates of my unorganized words upon any unsuspecting individual who I can see actually cares.

"How are you doing?"

These days, once my mouth opens, it takes a while to close. We walked out of the library, past the Wilk, down the steps, up the sidewalk, and when we reached the point where she would go left down the hill to her apartment, I would go right, across campus, to mine, I suddenly realized that I had not given her the chance to say a word.

Two hours after I got home, I seriously had no idea what I was saying to Jessica or why. And honestly, I was shocked by my behavior. Four years ago this would never have happened. Somehow, though, in my lonesomeness, the Me Monster inside has wriggled its way out of its cage. [If you don't know the reference, do yourself a favor and watch this clip:]

At least now that I'm conscious of my narcissistic tendency, I can watch out for the times when the Me Monster escapes--usually it is preceded by a large assignment that gobbles away the time usually spent on the phone with my mom or unwinding with my husband. Other times, though, I open one thought's door and it's lurking in the closet wearing a fang-y grin. I'm still looking for patterns, so don't be surprised one day if a Me Monster pounces when you ask a simple question.