What do you do when your students make you cry?
Of the nine students in my Women, Gender, & Creativity course, all nine had said they planned to attend this optional, last class of the semester. Class was to begin at 12:20, and it was 12:15 but I had yet to see any students, not even the ones who arrived early all semester. 12:18 and still no one but me was there. I'm slightly worried I will need to bring the tray of cupcakes I bought for them home. At 12:20 I saw the first student cross in front of the window at the back of my classroom. She was followed by the other eight students, in a line that reminds me of kindergarten parades. Something was fishy.
It did not take long for nine students to wind their way through the door at the back of the class and for the two at the back of the group to deliver a gift basket to the desk I was sitting behind at the front of the room. A copy of the class portrait one of the students had created for their final group project, a notebook, some feminist stickers, a pin that reminds me to teach peace. Inside the notebook is a letter signed by all 9 students. Reading it was the breaking point in the dam holding my tears of gratitude for this group of students who brought their full selves into the room when my Pedagogy of the Full Self was still just beginning at the start of the course. As much as I tried to build space to bring their full selves in, they built space for me to bring my full self in as well.
So, what did I do when my students made me cry. I laughed. I laughed harder still when they joked it was their intention. I joked with them about how my therapist and I have a running gag about how long into a session it took her to make me cry. The students did not beat my therapist's record of four minutes, but they sure as hell came close. What does it mean that I could be up front with my students and make a joke about therapy? Was it a self-disclosure that made some significant difference? No. But it was part of bringing my full self into the room--something they and I had worked hard all semester to be able to do.
I posted on my personal Facebook that I was lucky to have this group of students, in this particular class, at this particular time in my life. And that is one of the truest sentiments I had today. Each of my students helped me learn this semester and each of them is a part of my story. I decided that the notebook they gave me is going to be used to document my teaching wins. It will be used to remind me of this group of students who trusted me as their instructor, trusted each other as a community, and who could be trusted to show up even when class was not mandatory.
When your students make you cry in the best possible way--embrace it. If you're using a pedagogy of the full self, they should already know you're human and together you can see the humanity within each other even through tears.