Today I was reminded of a few valuable lessons.
After some time away from my job recovering from surgery, new students returned today, which meant being back on campus and in a lecture theatre in front of more than 200 students.
For me, being in front of a class, explaining, unpacking, discussing and storytelling to make a point that may influence future practice is where I feel most at home. If people had asked me 10 years ago if I was happy public speaking, I most likely would have answered no. However, it is second nature and a place where I can make a difference by encouraging, inspiring, and motivating our future nurses to influence healthcare for the better.
I went to work today subconsciously, expecting things to be the same as they had for the last 10 years. That I could walk in with ease and the confidence that I usually portray. On the surface, this is most likely what the students saw, but for me, it was a time that included uncertainty, vulnerability and adapting to the new normal.
I have recently had complex eye surgery on my sighted eye. This has meant variable, distorted and blurred vision along with side effects of medications (including nausea, headache, blurred vision and high blood pressure). Along with this, my glasses prescription has changed, which has worsened the blurred vision and distortions. It will continue to change for another two months, and I can not afford to get new glasses now and then again in two months. Although I knew that my vision would change after surgery, and I had begun making adaptations, I had not anticipated the subconscious physical and emotional impacts.
Usually, preparing and setting up for a lecture is a breeze. This time, I managed to anticipate some adaptations before arriving; however, I soon learned that some were different or more challenging than I expected. One example was using the lecture theatre computer and touchpad that controls lights, microphones, recording and audio. I had asked a colleague to help; however, as he helped, I noticed I had a specific way that I liked things set up that others may not find intuitive. My usual method meant I did not forget anything. But today, deviating meant that I omitted things that make life more comfortable for students, such as dimming the lecture theatre lights to see the slides better. While this may not seem like a big issue to many, it made me feel a little unsettled.
Before arriving, I had decided to let the students know that I had recently had surgery and could not see as well as I usually did. I anticipated that this would be necessary when students outside of my field of view or blurred raised their hands to ask questions. As a solution, I planned to stop more frequently, check students’ understanding, and ask students to call out when they had a question telling me their name as they asked the question. This approach meant showing my own vulnerability to students. I usually do not have a problem showing students vulnerability while teaching. For example, letting students know when I do not know the answer to a question they ask. However, sharing personal information or admitting my limitations to over 200 people made me feel more vulnerable than usual and instantly doubt my decision to share the information and ability.
The social context of education was highlighted as students quickly reverted to putting up their hands and waiting patiently to ask questions. While I noticed some students, I did not see others, which left me questioning whether they felt that their needs were met during that session. As a solution, I had already suggested students post questions unanswered to the discussion forum. To date (15 hours later), no students have posted questions, leading me to believe that students are OK. This situation highlighted how I rely on visual cues as feedback from students in group teaching sessions. In future, I plan to consciously make other avenues for cues more overt by encouraging students to use more verbal prompts.
While the lecture and discussion were delivered and received with ease, maintaining the learning environment raised challenges, the timing was perfect. As usual, some students approached to ask questions at the end of the session. With my colleague who helped with the setup now gone, logging out of the computer became a challenge. I could not read the small menu of the lecture theatre computer, and the next class were filing in with lecturers waiting to take over the room. I ended up letting a student who was waiting to ask a question log out of the computer for me rather than initiating a discussion about this with the staff waiting to start the next class. While logging out was necessary. It reversed the traditional teacher and student role, where the student asks the teacher for assistance.
I walked away from the class feeling that I had not performed as well I “should” or “usually” do and wondered how this might affect students. Several students approached after class, thanking me for easing them into the paper, which reduced their anxiety about the course while introducing some new concepts. This reminded me that we all come into a situation with our own fears, students around the unknown course content or expectations. Whereas I feared making mistakes in content delivery and students losing faith in me because I could not see them well enough to realize that they had questions. Interestingly, it wasn’t either of these things that I struggled with instead of the environmental tasks.
The situation described above has predominantly reminded me that being honest about my challenges/showing vulnerability itself, be a teaching tool.
Beautifully written Sally – I think you are way too hard on yourself and I can only imagine how lucky your students are to have such a dedicated and thoughtful professional guiding them in their studies.