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Self-Evaluation

sara.gladwin's picture

A Series of Critical Love Letters

 

Dear Anne and Jody,

 

I’m taking a page from Hayley’s book and writing this reflection as a letter. To start, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I leave our interactions reminded always, of how kind this world has been to me, to have provided the opportunity to know you both. Our relationships have encouraged me to recognize my own strengths. This endeavor to become confident and self-affirming requires actively fighting a tidal wave of conditioned instincts; instincts which feed negativity and shame into my sense of self. In writing earlier drafts of this reflection, I found myself increasingly conscious of my reflex to frame any and all strengths as modestly as possible; to the point where I would describe positive aspects of our reading group without acknowledging the role I played in creating those aspects. While I will always feel that modesty is strength in of itself, this particular space is designed for acknowledging your abilities.

I felt like one of my strengths was my reading notes; which I took meticulously and proved useful in class discussions, because I was able to pinpoint specific passages to reference. Toward the end of the semester, I found it harder to keep up with the reading, and to balance my workload. Another role I found myself actively taking on was utilizing van time to facilitate constructive dialogue, both before and after our time at Riverside. It seemed important, both for me and the group, to spend time going over the lesson plan and our different teaching roles as a way of preparing. This time also proved useful for finding ways to support one another as educators. For example, inevitably, there would be times when one or more of our group had not been able to do all of the reading that week, so whoever had completed the reading would spend at least twenty minutes filling in those who had not been able to get to the reading. This is a reminder of how beneficial it is to teach in groups; we were always able to “fill in” for each other.

Throughout my time working at Riverside, I have witnessed myself stepping deeper and more comfortably into a teaching role. Sometimes, it almost felt like becoming a different person. There were several defining moments when I felt this the most strongly; such as helping Amanda with her book or the times when I circled the room to help students with their writing. I have come to a sense of pride in my own ability; and a feeling that these are the moments of connection that make education so powerful and worth while, even in times when it is all too easy to feel hopeless about the state of the world. When it came to forming more personal relationships and engaging in conversation outside the classroom, I definitely had to push myself to be comfortable. There were moments when I did not have the energy; and I stepped back to become an observer. This had both positive and “negative” effects… I was able to step back and learn from the interactions I was observing, but at times, I also felt less connected to some students personally.


 

Toward the end there seemed to be a general decline in energy with the group toward planning. I do not think this was any fault of ours- continuously having to plan was a huge strain. In preparation for next semester, I plan to use my Serendip page over the summer for curriculum ideas so that we do not fall under the same strain as this semester.

I am disappointed that I did not engage more in reading and adhere more strictly to weekly postings. It felt difficult to keep this independent study isolated from the rest of my coursework- our meetings were always porous, and our discussions seemed to weave back and forth between the different engagements of the semester. And yet- our biweekly meetings were incredibly important to me for other reasons, and I cannot honestly say that I would go back and attempt to reorient any of the discussions we had to be more reading or writing centered… I do not believe that constructing the independent study to be more recognizable within traditional academic structures and measures of success would have been a more productive way to spend our time. For me, it was significant to have that space to talk about teaching, whether it was in regards to our reading group, or our 360.

And on a very personal and individual level, sometimes our meetings were the most fulfilling aspect of my day. I wake most days feeling some odd combination of dread and anxiety, a recipe that ultimately produces a kind of numbness of receptivity to the world. I used to describe it as flat lining; my insides would be in such turmoil that they eventually just stop working entirely. I know all I have to do is swallow a pill to make it go away, but sometimes I can’t even bring myself to do that because it feels like a lie. There was a moment during one of our Riverside classes when we were talking about Miriam’s mother in A Thousand Splendid Suns and the discussion turned to the question of why a person would ever intentionally not take medication that could actually help them… I didn’t say it then but I find myself facing this mini-crisis everyday. Some part of me cannot handle knowing that approximately six hours after taking medication, I will flat line out again… slowly, I will lose that chemically manufactured sense of wholeness and effortless productivity and descend downward until I am utterly lost. There is no avoiding it; the descent is a side effect of the drug. To be able to come to our meetings feeling this dread and to leave in a radically different spirit is more than I could ever ask for.

 

 

 

Dear Hayley and Sasha,

 

I’m going to try really hard to abandon my sense of perfectionism and desire to sound poetic in writing so that I can say what needs to be said.

 

Thank you. Endlessly. I don’t say this enough to you both, but your friendship means the world to me. The word “friendship” itself does not feel quite nuanced enough to accurately fit our relationships; as the bonds we have forged are unlike any relationships I have ever had before. In many ways, I feel that we have embodied the kind of “critical friendship” that was often discussed in our 360. Regardless of how comfortable I am with a person, I always feel an undercurrent of unspoken thoughts, which runs counter to the words that leave my mouth. When I am working and interacting with you both, I am uniquely privileged enough to experience a rich upwelling of this undercurrent; oceanographically, the phenomenon of upwelling is critical in maintaining the diversity of marine ecosystems. Metaphorically speaking, the process of upwelling thoughts has forever heightened my standards for honest and open dialogue.

 

I am additionally fascinated at times, with how lucky we are to have been brought together by our collaborative work. I wonder sometimes about what my life would have been without this; I realize we each seem to come from entirely different spheres of the Bryn Mawr Community and that in all likelihood, without this group or the 360, we may have never interacted in such meaningful ways. It reminds me of how valuable groups like ours can be to spaces like Bryn Mawr that have a diverse student body but an environment that may not be the most conducive for bringing these diverse spheres together.

 

Thank you again, and as always, I look forward to working together again.

 

 

A note about my reflection:

 

There is much left unsaid. I had originally planned to write three more letters in addition to the two that I managed to complete. The next letter would have been to Carmen and Silvi; telling them how much I have appreciated watching them grow throughout the semester and talking about changing group dynamics. The next letter was to the students on the inside, acknowledging how central they are in educating me throughout this journey. And finally, I was going to write a letter to Sara Gladwin. I managed to write one line of this letter; “You have to be your own friend sometimes too.” I feel like this line relates strongly to what I articulated earlier about internalizing shame about my failures and shortcomings; it is important to be kind to ourselves. This line also serves as one of my reasons behind the seemingly unfinished nature of this reflection- I need to be kinder to myself and know when it is time to let something be, to release it into the world and relinquish perfectionism in favor of trusting my own abilities as an intelligent student and educator.

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