Bittersweet

Skipping in, or hiding behind mom,
it’s true that day one was relatively calm,
but soon they’d manage to test my aplomb.

They challenged me to be fair and just,
(especially with those who cussed),
while I helped them to unclench their fists;
but no matter how long we discussed,
many problems left me nonplussed.

I watched each child learn and grow,
though progress was incrementally slow,
I loved seeing each of them find their flow.

The end grew near
and I wanted a beer,
as it had been quite a year.

The last day came
and I had to proclaim,
I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.

I hope each child saw the piece of me
that loved their idiosyncrasies.
It’s easy to foresee
all that they could be.

Cleaning cubbies with no faces to greet,
it isn’t a year I would want to repeat,
but I can truly say the end is bittersweet.

Summer, Student Affairs, and the Nature of Fun

Student Affairs has two seasons – summer and not summer. During the year, I find myself in back-to-back check-ins, presentations, or meetings with students, colleagues, and who knows who else day-in and day-out. Mid-semester, it’s completely reasonable to throw a small party in gratitude at the sight of 45 uninterrupted minutes sitting next to each other on my calendar. During the school year, I long for summer. I long for the peaceful afternoons, 4-hour focused work windows, leisurely jaunts to Starbucks, staff coloring breaks, and Minion YouTube videos. And every year, summer disappoints me.

For me, summer in Student Affairs is a giant expanse of the doldrums. And I think I’ve finally figured out why that is.

1) My ambivert is out of whack.

I learned that I am an ambivert from reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I fall somewhere in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum, meaning I get my energy from other people and love working with them, but they can also wear me out, making me want to do nothing but veg out in front of mindless television. During the year I come home exhausted, drained from the energy it took to interact with so many people, perfectly content to grab something out of the fridge and spend the rest of the night quietly on the couch. In summer, I come home craving interaction and meaningful time with someone (usually my partner, who is very patient with my drastically shifting needs), making me far more needy than I’m proud to be. Knowing this has helped me manage my days better — I make a conscious effort to spread out my meetings, plan social outings for days that have no meetings, and be more aware of how needy I’m being of others.

2) The work, for the most part, isn’t “fun”.

By the traditional definition of fun, summer would be considered far more so than the majority of the year. I mean, come on, there is coloring. But I take an alternative definition, from Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, which offers that we have adopted our mechanisms of fun and relaxation as a way to counteract the negatives and overstimulation in our lives. McGonigal cites a study that finds that what we typically think of as “fun” are activities that actually makes us feel worse (i.e. less motivated, less confident, and less engaged overall) rather than better. This is true for watching TV, eating, or just hanging out, among others.

What is fun for us then? Hard work that we choose. Any challenge that we feel capable of meeting gives us motivation, creates interest, and keeps us positively engaged. In Reality is Broken, this hard work is games, but it could be anything at all that challenges you — physical activity, attempting a new culinary masterpiece, or doing something you have always wanted to do but never tried.

Maria Montessori shares a similar perspective, offering that meaningful work is the easiest and most productive method for child development. Her entire method of schooling is designed around creating the optimal environment for a student to complete his or her own development. This foundation allows children to learn not only how to choose hard work but the importance of doing so throughout their lives. She argues that, “Man has intelligence because he has to make a better world than that which he has found,” which guides the hard work of students educated through her method.

During my summers, I spend the majority of my time doing the work that I would never choose to do during the school year. Of course, there are exceptions; I will nearly always get excited and invested in creating a new workshop, or uncovering something meaningful from program data. But, working on those things alone, behind my desk, is much less of the good kind of hard work than sharing those experiences with students.

So what have I gleaned from all of this? That I need to continue accommodating my ambivert, while working harder to find hard work, like this blog.