Playing Superwoman

Posted: October 22, 2010 in anxiety, OCD

In addition to playing parent (which I also did today), I sometimes get the chance to play Superwoman. Not literally, of course. But I’m in grad school, so I take what I can get in these situations. Since I’ve been a teaching assistant, I’d estimate that I’ve spent about 95% of my time doing two things: grading assignments, and listening students complain that they don’t like the way I’ve graded their assignments.  The remaining 5% gets divided between reporting plagiarizers, organizing study sessions, and helping students I actually like. Unfortunately, since class sizes keep getting bigger, and admissions standards keep getting lower, I usually end up having to focus more of my energy on the former than the latter.

I like helping students who are in school to learn. I don’t mind how much they are struggling, or how much time I have to invest in helping them. I’ll look at multiple drafts of their papers, spend way more time having office hours than I’m required to, and even help them if they can’t find sources for their papers. By the assessment of the professors I’ve worked for, I go above and beyond…both in hammering students who cheat with every penalty I can find, and investing extra time to help the ones who want it. By the assessment of some of my students, I’m the most intimidating TA they’ve ever had. I stand by both of those.

Being a TA has been a difficult learning experience for me on a lot of levels. Thanks to my OCD, I’m physically incapable of not taking my job seriously down to the last detail. I know I’m good at it. But it’s also very stressful. One of the reasons the professors I work for regard me highly as a TA is because of my attention to detail and willingness to grade harshly when students deserve it. Lots of TA’s (and some professors) avoid student wrath by inflating grades. I care about my reviews. But I also have zero patience for students who think they’re entitled to good grades for work they haven’t done. So I grade them how they deserve, and as a result, most of them think I’m the devil incarnate. For someone with anxiety who worries constantly what other people think about them and has spent two decades struggling to find adequate social skills for getting through daily life, this is a challenge.

Sometimes it’s rewarding. And one of the perks of having most of my students think I’m evil is that I have time to help the ones who actually need it. Today one of my former students stopped by to ask for advice about an ordeal she’s having with one of her classes. After two decades of being told (usually in not so many words) that I was responsible for things that were way beyond what was reasonable for a little kid, it’s nice to understand where healthy boundaries are, and be able to give advice. My poor little former student feels like the world is ending right now. If there’s one thing I can tell her definitively, it’s that it won’t. I can’t tell her how things will work out, but I can tell her from experience that life will go on. I’m glad I’ve learned that lesson. Even better? Being able to pass it on.



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