Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher, Young Adults
August is a month of conflicted feelings for me. On the one hand, it signals that the summer is ending; but on the other, it’s the start of the new school year. Gone will be the days of sleeping in, playing with my dog – all replaced by the familiar routine of class preparation, grading and research. It’s bittersweet.
This month also is a reminder of just how little time I have prior to the chaos of the first weeks of school. Summer is a time of productivity, but in these last weeks, I always take stock of just what I accomplished since May. What have I completed? What remains to be done? What are my top priorities as the new semester looms ahead?
As I was sharing these feelings with my husband, he jokingly asked me if the title “Doctor” makes any difference. I hadn’t actually thought about it, but this year will be different: not only because I have a slightly larger course load than in the past, but I wonder if it will make a difference in the minds of my students.
Does the address of “Doctor” versus “Mrs.” carry more weight?
Students have always perceived me to be on their level because I look younger than my age. Of course, these are the questions that arise in times of anxiety. Our self-esteem and confidence appear to vanish when we take a long look in the mirror and frankly ask whether we’ve achieved the goals we’ve set for ourselves.
In this way, I find myself on common ground with my students. Around the end of the semester – usually just before the final exam – students also take stock of themselves and their work in classes.
At the beginning of the semester, particularly in August, they set standards for themselves: What classes they believe will be GPA boosters or “easy A’s,” what classes they expect to be more challenging. Sometimes their expectations are met; sometimes they’ve fallen short.
When they come to me, it’s usually because they expected to fly through the English course without problems. I hear about the challenges they’ve encountered in their science and math classes, and the rigor of their majors. They simply didn’t expect that my class would have included so much work and effort.
When my students look at themselves in the mirror, they see the grades they expected alongside the grades they will receive. Like me, they can set unrealistic expectations.
At the start of the semester – which is sort of like a New Year’s Eve for teachers in that resolutions are made but not always kept – I try to share my experiences with my students. I let them know that their expectations, especially as freshmen, might be disappointed.
That’s part of life: it’s what comes after the disappointment that counts.
Once we realize that we might not accomplish all that we had set out to do, what comes afterward? Do we let the disappointment stew and turn into apathy or anger? Or, do we set new expectations that are more realistic, in light of the situation at hand?
In these final weeks of summer, I’ve reorganized my priorities and my “to-do” lists. Just because certain expectations haven’t been met in the last three months, it doesn’t mean they can’t be achieved in the months ahead.
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.