Dear Future COMM 107 Students,

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Dear Future COMM 107 Students,

As you are moving into your freshman dorms, filled with a myriad of emotions, I’m sitting here realizing that I am not much different than you right now. I, too, am new to the area. I, too, have just left behind everything I used to know–friends, family, hometown–to embark on the next step of my life. I, too, am both excited and nervous and unsure of what to expect of the next four or five years.

I do know that for the upcoming semester, I will be your instructor. For almost all of you, I will be the FIRST instructor you ever have at the University of Maryland, as we are spending the bright and early morning hours (8 am and 9 am) together three times a week, including this upcoming Monday–your first day of school. So that’s a pretty big role to fulfill, being your first professor. I don’t want to be a bad first impression; or worse, I don’t want to let you down.

You are my first group of students since my failed attempt in the classroom with Teach for America. Although I loved my students, I gave up on my role as a 6th grade teacher after just a year with them. I couldn’t take the pressure of the K-12 system and the responsibility of educating 100 tiny humans anymore; especially since I felt underprepared and like I was a disservice to them. Because of this glaring failure in my past, as my first day back in front of a class draws nearer, I can’t help but feel more and more of the imposter syndrome sneaking up on me. For those of you who haven’t heard that term yet, imposter syndrome is suffered by individuals who have an inability to internalize their accomplishments and holds a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” In real life, imposter syndrome feels like a wave of nausea inducing anxiety that washes over you at random intervals. Imposter syndrome sounds like the voice in my head that says, “what have I signed up for,” “did they make a mistake, letting me into this program and into this role?” And over and over I hear…”you failed last time, what makes you think you can be successful now?”

I try to silence this voice in my head because you deserve better. You deserve more than the broken version of myself that I was in the classroom three years ago. You deserve more than the nervous, self-conscious wreck I have been even this past week as I prepare to meet you. What you all deserve is a confident, authentic, happy, hardworking instructor who shows you that faculty in a large state university CAN care for you as a whole person.You deserve the unique mixture I am as a spokesperson in my academic field and as a professional in student development and affairs. You deserve an empathetic teacher like me who will create a safe, inclusive classroom setting where you can grown into your new college identity. You deserve my best version of me.

I’ve been reflecting a lot about this best version of me…how to unlock it, how to set her free. And I’ve realized, my dear future students, that in order to get the best version of me–in order for me to overcome the ghosts of my failures–there are a couple things I need to get off my chest. There are some things about me you need to know…

  1. I’m not cool. I’ve realize that I spend about half my time trying to convince everyone that I’m much cooler than I am, and then I send the other half of the time messing up that illusion. So I figured I would save us all a bunch of time and admit this right now. So yeah… I’m sorry kiddos, but I’m not cool, mostly awkward; nerdy as hell, actually. I’m not a smooth talker, I can’t deliver the punchline of jokes correctly. I overshare and I laugh at awkward silence. I unabashedly love Harry Potter and Hamilton and Gilmore Girls; I will reference them constantly if I feel comfortable enough around you. So if you were looking for a professor who was impressive and put together, you’re out of luck. But let me tell you the perks of having a totally uncool prof… I’ll give you the space to be yourself too.
  2. I’m (hella) not perfect. I’m definitely a recovering perfectionist who has to remind herself that it’s okay to struggle and ask for help. I wish someone had told me this as I struggled as first year teacher in Nashville. Looking back, I think a lot of my failure to sign up for my second year of the TFA commitment was my need to be perfect–the need to be the perfect 6th grade teacher with the perfect classroom and perfect test scores, and, oh yeah, I had to do that while making it appear effortless for others. But the truth was, I was drowning in despair, I was overwhelmed, and I was too proud of a perfectionist to open my mouth and ask for help.  Instead, my perfectionism backfired horrendously and I buckled under the pressure I had put on myself. Reflecting back on all of this,  I have promised myself that as I venture back into teaching again this year, that I won’t place those same unrealistic expectations on myself. Allow this letter than to be, in part, an apology in advance for all the times I will mess up this semester. I can’t pretend any longer that I’ve got it all together; that I’m always right; that I can do it all. I’m only human. But lucky you, because I understand that y’all aren’t perfect either and if you accept me for my flaws, that I will return the favor and treat you fairly and with empathy.
  3. I’m not “the” expert. I didn’t invent communication. I didn’t write the textbook. I’m a student just like you (although trust me, I know more about a lot of things than you…One of those things happens to be communication theory, patterns, and content). Let’s be realistic, I don’t know everything. This means that you may ask a question I don’t know the answer to. A couple years ago, when my 6th graders asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to, I would burn bright red, I’d cover my ass and make myself look correct instead of offering the correct answer. My former students deserved better than me trying to prove myself as the expert at all times instead of showing them humility and honesty. Future students, I promise to never bullshit you and make up an answer just so I can seem smarter than you. Instead, I might have to look stuff up with you, or turn your question back to the class to answer. We will look for the answer together, and trust me, at the end of the semester, we’ll all be smarter for it. My goal is to end the semester with all of us having learned a lot and grown even more.

With these above confessions, I hope to be honest and up-front with you. I am offering my vulnerable, whole self as your instructor for the next four months. I trust that you won’t take advantage of that. I trust you will not see my authenticity for weakness. I trust that you will not see me as a pushover; rather, you will see me as an instructor who challenges you to think beyond your regular paradigm. I will be a professor who invests if you. I will be the person on campus you can come to when you face a challenge (whether that be in my course or in life outside the classroom).

While I might not be cool, or perfect, or the expert… I will be there for you. Every. Damn. Day. I only pray and hope and dream that it is enough.

As you move into your new rooms, I move into this role as your instructor. I can’t wait to meet you. I can’t wait to invest in you. Until then…

In solidarity,

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MarriedLand; Some Musings

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As some of you may know, my new husband and I made the trek up to Maryland a couple weeks ago. We warmly nicknamed it MarriedLand. In a whirl of boxes, dust and laughter, we have since (mostly) put together our home and explored some of the surrounding area.

He has started work this week and I don’t until Monday, so with that down time, I’ve been thinking about the landslide of changes we’ve both gracefully fallen into and also horrendously slid down. Some changes are comical, others are concerning; mostly, I’m just trying to make sense of some musing as I’m sure it’s just the beginning…

  • Maryland drivers are THE worst; Maryland roads are THE worst. I’m just waiting for one of three things to happen 1) I get towed; 2) I get in an accident; 3) I get a ticket from those damn red-light cameras AND speeding cameras (dear God..).
    • Oh wait, I already got towed. We got towed the FIRST night we were here, but that’s another story for another time. In conclusion, anything involving driving on Maryland roads, parking in Maryland streets, etc. is a nightmare.
  • Moving with your partner makes the gut-wrenching element of change much less profound. When I moved to Nashville three years ago, where the closest person I loved was 3 hours away and my family was even further, I was awash with emotions of fear and loneliness and pain. I cried for the first 8 months (at least), as I am not the adaptable human the rest of y’all are. In short, I grieved for the life I had left behind. Moving to Maryland has been much more joyous with my partner/best friend/husband by my side. Am I homesick? You bet. Do I miss my humans back in the South? Hell yes. But Eric is my home–my heart–so it didn’t feel like I left a whole life behind when we moved. He was next to me the whole time. I’m thankful for his ever-constant presence in my life; it calms me. It heals me of the extreme emotions that typically accompany a life event for me.
  • I’m living in working class neighborhood for the first time in my life. And I know I’m going to love it because it’s real and it’s diverse. But coming from pristine, trendy Nashville, I definitely felt the juxtaposition. I find that perhaps I did appreciate the aesthetics of Nashville, which has been jarring since I never thought of myself as a person who likes something based on looks. So now I’m just considering why I keep looking for the the cute/trendy neighborhoods, restaurants and shops when I’m surrounded by perfectly wonderful ones around me.
  • My perceived racial identity has shifted. With some exceptions, for as long as I can remember, I have been in predominantly white spaces. And as a bi-racial woman (white and middle eastern), I feel my Persian ethnicity as more visible in white spaces, as my racialized physical features stand out; my lived experiences differ; my history speaks. I found that I spoke up more against the white narrative and I tried to take up more space as a bi-racial woman in white dominated places. For the first time, I am now a bi-racial woman in a richly diverse community where white people are the minority. Now, in contrast to those around me, I feel like I am perceived as white while about in public. I have noticed that since moving here, I notice my white body trying to take up less space; talk less, smile more (yes, that’s a Hamilton reference). And it’s because I respect this community of many people of color and I don’t want to be imposing my whiteness/privilege onto them. It’s ironic because at the Social Justice Training Institute, I took the time to work on my identity as a woman of color with experiences as a bi-racial Persian woman specifically. Now, it looks like I could have used some reflection on what it means to be white in a community of minorities. Anyone (especially multi-racial folks) who would like to reach out and talk to me about this phenomenon of feeling more one race than the other based on the community around you, I would welcome it.
  • Making new friends is daunting; reconnecting with old friends seems almost as challenging. Luckily, Eric and I have some previous friends in the area, but we haven’t done our due diligence in reaching out to everyone. I don’t know what I’m hesitating for; it’s lonely moving to a new city and my husband being at work is only exacerbating the issue. But my social anxiety is kicking in and instead of reaching out, I’m pulling inwards. Yikes.
  • There’s so much more to learn here. We’ve been here less than three weeks out of a five year commitment, and I’m so ready to grow into this next stage of my life. I can’t wait to start my program and write like I need it to survive (yes, Hamilton), to learn about the community we have rooted ourself in here in Maryland, to strengthen our marriage into the healthy, happy, thriving life-partnership it is becoming. And to live. Boy, do I just want to live and laugh and BE here in Maryland. And I’m so optimistic that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Cheers,

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