I have a confession to make. When life strikes with all its messy chaos, I’m a master of pretending to read things I haven’t read.
I plagiarized a literature paper in high school because of it.
I wrote an entire in-class essay quiz in graduate school based on a book I hadn’t cracked open until I set foot in the classroom.
Have you ever done something similar?
I don’t know about you; for me, this type of pretending is stressful and anxiety inducing, yet at times it has seemed a better option than admitting that life got in the way of completing my assigned work. I have sweated a lot on those occasions, but I have still been able to maintain a guise of being the “perfect student.”
This week, I was scheduled to attend a discussion group with some of my coworkers. Life got crazy, and I didn’t finish the assigned reading—in fact, I didn’t even start.
This time, something was different. I have worked with this group of people long enough, and we’ve had enough conversations as educators about how to respond when students fall behind that I took a risk. I didn’t make excuses or skip out: instead, I explained frankly that I was glad to be there but had not had time to read.
Because I felt safe enough to let the discussion leader know I was unprepared, she didn’t call on me when she invited everyone to share their first impressions of the reading material. She acknowledged me—no hiding, no shame—but, she said, “Contribute as you want.”
She asked the first commenter to read a passage to demonstrate the point being made. Reading aloud gave me a ticket into the conversation, because I got to hear some of the words I hadn’t had time to read before the gathering.
As we continued, I read along, and by the end of the hour, between my silent reading and my colleagues’ comments, I felt enough a part of the discussion that I felt comfortable contributing.
I listened more that day than I do sometimes. I wasn’t scrambling for something to say, the way I might if I were trying to cover for my own unpreparedness. As a result, I absorbed more, and I got excited about going back to read the passages on my own when we were done.
For this perfectionist people-pleaser, that hour was one of the greatest gifts I’ve received lately. I’m so grateful to my coworkers for reminding me that even when a student has not “done the work,” he or she can still benefit from participating in a community of learners.
Read Part 2: From One Ill-equipped Leader to Another