One of my students was rubbing his face this morning in a characteristic gesture that I recognize from my past week of extreme stress.
“Hey,” I called out, “is everything all right?”
He told me he was really stressed. I don’t know what I said; we got started with class. We talked for a moment about questions and concerns with regards to the exam tomorrow night. Then I taught my lesson.
I had a crowd after class, someone wanting to learn some math, some concerned with logistics, and the young man who was rubbing his face, who wanted to tell me what was up.
Apparently he made an error in recording his exam schedule, and missed an exam he was supposed to take yesterday at the disability center. The instructor wouldn’t make alternative arrangements, and he has to take the exam with the rest of the class without the additional time he’d normally get.
You don’t see young men get to the crying point often, and when you do, you know they are under a phenomenal amount of stress.
You can’t bullshit someone in a situation like that. “Oh, it will be all right,” that’s just empty words. We know it’s just one exam, but to this student at this time, it’s the entire world.
You want comfort at times like that from a caring authority figure who can let you know absolutely that you are okay and you are not a fuck up.
I’ve been paying careful attention to how this one has been doing all semester; he’s not getting the disability accommodation on my quizzes, and it’s my responsibility to make sure that situation is working for both of us.
I put my hand on his shoulder, and I told him that if he was doing in that other class what he was doing in mine, and he could calm down between now and that exam, that I was confident that he would get through it okay. More than okay. I’m convinced he’ll do well.
I know that’s still just empty words; it requires my authority and his conviction of my ability to stand in judgment to carry that message through. It couldn’t make everything better, but I think it helped.