In a larger university context, I can’t be open and honest, I fear, because of my lack of tenure, lack of position, lack of a terminal degree. I’m reminded often that only those with tenure have the freedom to “take risks” with students because with tenure, one has some protection if the risks don’t work out. Yet I’m working with students who have great needs and who present great risks. But there is no protection for me if the risks don’t work out.
They resisted the work, resisted me, and resisted the system that had them in such a foreign place. They resisted and behaved badly because they were afraid of failure, because they had so many other pressures placed on them, and because by behaving badly, they could gain a little respect from their peers by not appearing “stupid.” Yet we all knew what was going on…. we all knew about the resistance and the face-saving. The students and myself, we all knew. And we all knew that many times they just played me. They sometimes played me because they are in a system where everyone is played in some manner because someone has to win and someone loses. That’s just the way it is. They put on a face that allowed them to survive a difficult and foreign system and that face was one of belligerence and defiance. But I wore a face, too. My face was one of the educated, of the elite. They would never see themselves in my face because they couldn’t see through the mask.
Look how we all lost.
How could I expect them to remove their masks if I didn’t remove mine? Removing my mask would have been to tell my story (or part of it), to be real to them, to be a little vulnerable. Yet I couldn’t. I feared. I failed. I failed them. —Rubicon —Basic Writers and the Academy (Pass the Rubicon)
What’s the magic formula? How do I take the “good” and catch it in a bottle, and let it out when I need to ward off the “bad”? Sometimes I feel like Willy Loman pleading with the image of his fantastically successful brother – What’s the secret?
Of course, there is no “right answer,” but I’m pursuing this line of thought because in myself I can see elements of that first-semester freshman sitting in a classroom, furious and terrified, alienated from a discussion everyone else seems to understand, silently pleading that the professor would stop talking about concepts and rules and theories, and just write on the board the answers to the questions that will be on the final exam.