take the experience (and other things your TA never told you.)

When I look back at my time in college, I don't remember much (which is saying something, since I want to make a living out of this whole higher-education thing.) There's some residual stuff: agenda setting theory, social construction, and Dr. Colombo talking about belief. I'm still freakishly good at identifying the flora and fauna of the chaparral ecosystems of San Diego, thanks to freshman science. But, overall I can recall startlingly little from my classes.

Usually in essays like this, people go on to say something that could be painted on a picture frame. That what they remember are "nights with the friends they could never forget." But the thing is, I don't really remember many of those either. Graduation was only 5 years ago, but all those late nights and freckled faces that once felt so vivid slip away ... just like all that stuff about Kenneth Burke.

As a teacher now, I don't take attendance in my classes. It's pretty unusual. Probably more experienced teachers are rolling their eyes at me - a TA with two semester of experience handing out teaching philosophies! I'm recording it here now for myself as much as anyone. Because, like I said, college keeps getting smaller. I get farther away from that girl.

The reason I don't take attendance is that, when given a choice between another lecture and an experience they'll remember, I want my students to take the experience. I don't mean all the time. I don't mean take the experience of mainlining netflix on a Wednesday because you just don't feel like showing up to class.  I mean for the big things. I like to think sometimes my class is the big thing - I try for it to be. There have been days when I see a flicker, a spark of something inside my students that I swear wasn't there before. But other times, it just isn't.

I know there are students like me in every class. I am, and always will be, a people pleaser {and the kind of person who has never - not even once - skipped a day of work}. It was my Dad who finally got through to me, one afternoon when I sat in tears on the curb outside my dorm room. I wanted to go to Palm Springs for the weekend but I was in an absolute panic about being absent for a single day. 

I will never forget that drive; the winding road surrounded by low brush and white boulders the size of a house. My boyfriend was driving a brand new car, all shiny and black with the top down (and, despite what I thought when we broke up a few months later, he doesn't matter much to this memory at all.) Somewhere between San Diego and the desert, we passed a road-side sign for avocados. 10 for $1. We filled the back seat and ate more guacamole that week than could possibly be good for a person. I remember that.

For those of us who hear the call of expectation and the threat of failure over our own inner voice, listening to your heart takes practice.  And I want my students to learn to listen; to teach them how to weigh responsibility against spontaneity. 

If they're given the choice between keeping a line in their date book and doing something big - of creating one of the few (very few. too few.) moments they will actually carry with them into the future - I hope they know when it's worth it. And when it is, I hope they take the experience.

(part 1 of 2) on taking the experience. part 2 will be published next monday!


  1. I've been reflecting on my college experience as well. Must be all the graduations taking place around me! Just curious - do your students have your blog address?

    1. Ashley, I don't give it out or talk about my blog ... but it is the first thing that comes up when you google me {and kids these days! so internet savvy. I'm sure a few of them have found it.} I definitely think all the reflecting we're both doing has to do with this time of year. It's in the air!

  2. This is gorgeous. "For those of us who hear the call of expectation and the threat of failure over our own inner voice, listening to your heart takes practice." I needed that today.

  3. I wish I had more professors in college with your outlook. I was always interested in experiences rather than sitting in a classroom and memorizing a semester's worth of lectures for one final test. That never felt like learning to me. I think I would have gotten more out of my studies and spent less time partying!

  4. I don't take attendance either. I have two competing ideas in my head: that students should be treated as adults and just show up responsibly, and that their comings and not-comings reflect upon how interesting I am as a teacher.


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