Noticing your own flaws: Goal-Setting Essay

The idea of noticing that runs through our course epigraph strikes me as particularly important not just in the literature we read for this course, but also in our growth as people. One goal that I came into this course with is to be a better listener. While I have always excelled in a classroom setting, I’ve usually played the role of the resident hand-raiser. The student in every class whose voice can be heard in every discussion. The one ready with an answer to almost every question the professor asks. This has been one of my biggest strengths throughout my academic career, and I’ve always taken pride in it. It’s not until my past few years in college, however, that I saw the both/and of this situation. The same enthusiasm and willingness to speak up that drove me to actively engage in every class discussion could also lead to me dominating conversations and bulldozing over my less extroverted or confident classmates. The same eagerness to share my learning that led to me raising my hand could (and has) lead me to interrupt the insights of others. Often I find myself so fascinated by the things that I notice that I’m more interested in sharing them than I am about hearing what others have noticed. 

I’ve made a conscious effort to amend that a bit this semester. I’m trying my best to take a step back both in whole-class and small group discussions, and engage in the observations and insights of my classmates without always responding with one of my own. This is in part due to experiences in other classes, and in part due to several friendships I’ve made with classmates and fellow students who I know to have just as many valuable insights and thoughts as my own but who I know, either from being in classes with them or from their own accounts, don’t tend to share them as often, either for fear of being wrong, an aversion to attention, the assumption that these insights are not important or valid enough to warrant sharing, or any number of other reasons. In almost every case, my initial reaction to my friends and classmates’ relative lack of verbal class participation was frustration. If you have all these ideas and insights about what we’re learning, why wouldn’t you share them? While all the reasons I listed before were some of the more common threads, by far the most common was some variation of “it’s not like I need to, there’s plenty of others that will speak in class anyways”. This answer stuck out to me. As an Education Major, most of the other reasons I heard for why my fellow classmates and friends don’t speak up more in class came from issues I recognized as things that were mostly the responsibility of a professor to fix, largely due to them being the only ones with the power to do so. If a student is afraid of being wrong for example, it is on the teacher to create a classroom environment where being wrong is not only allowed but celebrated, referred to as “a culture of error” by Lemov in his book “Teach Like a Champion” which was used as a textbook in one of my education courses. In contrast to this, the idea of “other voices will be present anyways, so no one will notice or care about the absence of my own” is not really something a professor can fix on their own. Sure, teachers can stress the importance of everyone’s unique perspective and experiences, but without a class of students that are attentive of each other and willing to make room for everyone’s voices, no action on the part of the teacher or professor will be enough. 

That is largely why I’m trying to get better at talking less, and putting more time and effort into noticing the ideas and insights of my classmates when it comes to the learning we’re doing. I’ll be the first to admit that I am in no way disciplined enough to stop myself from speaking at all in class, and I confess that despite my best efforts, I still have trouble reining myself in enough to keep from dominating some conversations. But it’s something that I’m working hard at consciously noticing and getting better at. 

As for how all this ties in to what we’ve been reading, learning, and thinking about in class so far. I’d argue that many of the texts we’ve read so far have largely concerned people in dire need of self-reflection. Doctor Preserved Porter, for example, displays a painfully obvious  lack of self-awareness in the section in Fortune’s Bones written from his point of view. His obsession with examining the corpse of the man he enslaved for years with absolutely zero regard for the wishes of Fortune’s own family or even Fortune himself is the entire reason that the section “On Abrigador Hill” reads like the narrative of a delusional man engaging in a perversion of the highest degree. This effect is even more profound when contrasted by the first speaker in “Kyrie of the Bones” who is at least self-aware enough to recognize that the reason they renamed Fortune’s Skull was because “It was easier/to face him with an imaginary name”(Nelson page 21) then be confronted with the fact that Fortune was a real person, just like anyone in the Porter Family. 

We see the same blatant lack of self awareness in Frank Money throughout most of Toni Morrison’s Home. While Frank at first seems at least self aware enough to understand that his PTSD brought on by his time in the Korean war is a problem, everything else he does in an attempt to solve this problem seems to be the lack of any introspection on his part. We see him turn to love as a solution, and while being with Lily alleviates some of his worst symptoms, he still has difficulty regulating his emotions in certain situations, and shows clear sign of depression in his inability to complete even the most basic of household chores upon Lily’s request. We later see him attempt to ease his symptoms with alcohol, which also doesn’t help. Later, after engaging in physical violence in the form of assaulting a man, we see Frank fail to connect this to his PTSD at all, instead believing his symptoms to have gotten better due to his ability to remember his time in Korea without immense mental and emotional stress. What’s striking about Frank is that we know that his lack of self-reflection is a deliberate choice, as we see through the italicized chapters (in which he is presented as writing his account of his experiences to Morrison) that he is entirely capable of deep introspection. In chapter 14, when he confesses to being the soldier that murdered the child, in part because he was aroused by her, we see him unpack his thought process, along with the guilt, shame, and fear that his arousal toward that girl caused him. So when we as readers see him thinking about how much better he’s doing after beating a man up and actively enjoying it, we know he’s being willfully ignorant. 

This is my senior year in college, and while I plan to go onto graduate school, the fact that I’m graduating from Geneseo this spring and crossing what is considered by many in our society to be the final threshold into adulthood. It’s making me reflect on the type of student and person that I am, have been, and want to be. Given that I will likely be going into teaching soon, it’s also making me reflect on the type of teacher I hope to be, and one of the main things I want to be that I have noticed that I haven’t always been in the past and still have a hard time being in the present is a good listener. I want to be someone who people want to talk to, about anything from their thoughts on what we’re reading and learning about in class, to their day, to the things they love, or fear, or are passionate about. In order to be that person, I need to be able to listen more attentively, without catching myself thinking about what to say next while others are still speaking. I hope to use this class as an opportunity to get better at this. 

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