On the Other Side

I think I passed over to the other side.

It happened tonight with my 12 college students. “You’ll have to speak louder. Remember I can’t hear.” So the young woman in the corner spoke so I could hear her but I know she was probably shouting. “Yes, yes! I said. “Great point!” She beamed.

For years I’ve taught a course at the university where I went to school. I loved teaching. I taught a subject about which I have a lot of content expertise and experience. There was almost nothing better than teaching but I quit because I couldn’t hear some of the students and I couldn’t bring myself to ask them to speak louder. I couldn’t admit publicly that my hearing disability had become pretty severe but I also couldn’t fake it anymore. So, in my mind, the solution was to eliminate teaching from my repertoire of professional skills.

It was okay, I thought. I taught for a long time. Nothing goes on forever. It’s just one of those things I can’t do anymore. So I buried teaching in the coffin that was also holding things like having conversations at parties, talking to people on the telephone, and hearing people in a meeting who are not facing me directly. Surrender. I was all about surrender, graceful surrender. I folded my hands and waited for the world to be captioned.

And then a switch flipped.

I wanted to teach again. So this fall I signed a contract, created a new syllabus, and walked into a classroom with twelve slouching, tired students; and I thought, Jan, you can either go home right now or channel Stevie Nicks. And so I made a choice.

“Time makes you bolder/Even children get older/And I’m getting older, too.” [Landslide 1975]

I decided that I would love these students, I would greet them when they walked in the door. I would tell them what I know. I would set things up so they would discover things on their own. I would get them to laughing. I’d start some arguments. I’d insist and cajole and tease and do all the things I’m good at doing with students.

And I would tell them to speak up. Because what they have to say is important and I want to hear it, hear it. You know, really hear it. And not surrender.

No surrender. Not for me. Not yet.

3 Comments on “On the Other Side

  1. Good for you, Jan. Your students are very lucky and if they don’t speak up, you can tell them that I said to do it out of respect for you. 🙂 I admire your courage and appreciate your willingness to share yourself with us.

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