(I don’t even know what week it is anymore — it’s that point in the semester. And yes, the pen came in a corset box — no idea why except for Pelikan saying “this is a girl pen.”)
This past summer in the midst of grief as my mother died of cancer, I started a blog focusing on my love of stationery and fountain pens. For one blog post, I wrote about a pink pen and my search for the perfect ink. That ink turned out to be one by Monteverde called “Kindness.” Once I realized my pen would be writing with kindness, I started imagining what that could mean for my commenting on student work. It’s been a long time since I graded on paper rather than digitally, but this made me wish I could.
I’m not a naturally kind person. I don’t believe anyone is. I get impatient easily, especially if I have to repeat myself. I can remember feeling that irritation rise when I taught two writing classes back-to-back, not because of anything my students were doing, but because the students in the first class would ask the same questions as the students the hour before did. I had to constantly remind myself that yes, I was saying the same thing I’d just said, but to different people. So I don’t think kindness is part of anyone’s nature. Rather, I think it’s a practice, the result of choices we make over and over again every day. I say this because in my teaching practice it’s gotten easier and easier to make the kind choices, to not feel impatient, to see my students with compassion and as struggling rather than dismiss them when they miss classes and assignments.
For me, critical pedagogy theory helps a huge amount. For me, the practice of teaching with kindness becomes my praxis when I theorize it through critical pedagogy. This has felt more urgent than usual this past year as we cope with the pandemic, and even more so this semester as crisis fatigue has set in for students, staff, and faculty across my university.
It’s hard right now in fact. I have students who became ill with covid and stopped coming to class. I occasionally hear from them when I reach out to them. They want to come back but are overwhelmed and so tired. We’ve reached a point in the semester where I’m not sure they can complete the class and am wondering if I should urge them to drop, even though that can have financial implications for students on federal aid. In the past, I would have given them incompletes, but those so often turn into slow failing grades I’ve tried to avoid them in recent years.
So I go back to bell hooks and wonder what she would do with my students in a global pandemic? My thought is to keep reaching out to them, to help them see that they should celebrate their struggle and survival, whatever ends up happening this semester.