After correcting 714 class work assignments, 306 homework assignments, 204 quizzes, and 306 twelve-page exams, one of my classes came to an end last week. One of the nicest aspects, beyond the actual teaching and getting to know my students, was reading the comments that were left on my evaluation forms. Under “professor’s strengths”, the most frequently listed item was my “enthusiasm for teaching”.
This really made me stop and think. I know that I really enjoy teaching. While I always try to focus in on the good, the fact of the matter is that there are many challenges that I encounter on a continual basis. While my students are taking a break, and my hands start tightening up and curling inwards, I wonder how I am going to be able to write on the board when class resumes. When it feels like I can’t stand on my feet for one more minute, I try to figure out how I can give my ankles a rest, and still walk around the classroom. And when my entire evening is consumed with a flare, I try to find a solution that allows me to both prepare the following day’s class while still getting enough sleep during the night.
So it was nice to see that what stood out to my students was my “enthusiasm for teaching” and not the personal struggles that I face on a daily basis. All too often, it can feel like my rheumatoid arthritis defines who I am. I continue to learn that this need not necessarily be the case. While my chronic illness is certainly a major factor in my life, and demands a lot of time and attention, it’s certainly not what I am all about.
This week I started a new class. I have only a fraction of the students that were in my last class. This new class is about half as short, and starts fifteen minutes earlier in the morning. Overall, I should be in an easier place than where I was just a week ago…but with the constantly shifting tide of rheumatoid arthritis, I continue to learn to accept that things are rarely what they “should” be.
When I woke up this morning, I was unable to move my feet. I had no idea how I was going to get out of bed and get ready, much less make the half hour trip to campus and teach for more than two hours. I decided not to look that far ahead into the future. All I needed to do was take the next step…and then take the next step, and so on. Eventually, I took my long morning bath. In addition to pulling out a pair of socks, I also pulled out my ankle braces. I swapped my dress shoes for my more comfortable sneakers. I finished getting ready, and I left the house.
Did the pain persist? Most definitely. But I arrived on campus, and started my class. I sat down and rested my feet as I showed my students a short video. Within an hour, I noticed that the pain was subsiding. We took a five-minute break, and I sat down and rested my feet some more. An hour later, when class ended, the pain in my ankles was almost completely gone.
“Enthusiasm for teaching.” I’m beginning to realize that it’s not just good for my students, but that it’s also having a beneficial effect on this one professor, in particular.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!