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Sunday, September 9, 2012

When the Teacher is Ready, the Student Appears

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I’ve become wary of giving people advice.  Not because I don’t like it, but because I tend to get carried away.  A friend pointed this out after I’d sent him a lengthy follow-up email about what I thought he should do, without even giving him enough time to respond to my first message.  This still makes me cringe whenever I think about it, but I’m grateful to him for pointing it out, as well as for being far gentler about it than I deserved.

After that experience, I decided I have two options:  I can start (Official motto:  “Don’t call us.  We’ll call you.”)  Or I can take more time to listen and to decide whether a) the person is really asking for advice; b) what kind of advice they really need; and c) whether I’m really qualified to give it.

The other day a student asked me how to prepare for graduate school.  Should she hire a tutor?  Take a test preparation course? 

OK, here was a situation where I was definitely being asked for advice.  And I do consider myself qualified to help international students prepare for graduate school (which is a clear part of my job).  There are certainly test preparation courses and tutors that I could recommend. 

And yet…

The more I listened to her describe her situation, the more I it seemed she didn’t need the type of advice she thought she did. 

I started by asking what she’s already been doing to prepare for graduate school, and unlike many other students, she’s basically doing everything right: she’s aware of the deadlines and application process and what tests she needs to take.

Then I asked whether she has the time and energy to take an evening class.  She admitted that she’s already exhausted from being in English classes four hours a day plus doing at least three hours of homework plus taking care of her household and helping her children with their schoolwork.  She added that she’s so anxious she can’t sleep.

The circumstances obviously aren’t the same as mine, but there have certainly been many times in my life that I was so anxiously trying to do everything right that I couldn’t sleep.  I’m finally learning to be gentler with myself, and realizing that it actually makes me more effective. 

So I urged her to do something (pray, talk to a friend, meditate, take a walk) that could help her to feel calm and get some sleep.  I reassured her that she’s doing what she needs to do and shouldn’t blame herself for not doing more.  I encouraged her to work a little bit on her goals every day rather than panicking that she can’t do everything right now. 

Of course, these are all the things that I need to remind myself.  I hope she found our conversation as helpful as I did.

related posts:

Calm Down and Reduce Your Stress: Tips for Mindful (but Busy!) Teachers

Teaching Mindfulness with Integrity (interview)

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