Last week, Alex and I conducted our first student group interview at YouthBuild Charter School in North Philly. We had been observing in the classrooms for a couple weeks, but had never been the leaders in the conversations. So, when it finally came time to lead the discussion, we were extremely nervous! Getting up in front of the student body to introduce ourselves and elicit volunteers to participate in our research activities became a daunting task–full of anxiety. We had watched how the teachers and faculty made announcements and the one thing they all had in common is that they use a ton of energy and project their voices well above the volume of the side chatter. Unfortunately, both Alex and I are a little disadvantaged in those key areas; but, we rehearsed our announcement and made a pact to exert the most emotion and volume that we could muster. You know that saying "fake it to make it," well we did and it seemed to work. After a short feeling of relief and a new comfortability, we became overwhelmed with anxiety once again, because now we had to conduct the activities by ourselves in a room full of students.
The group interview was very successful, with eight very focused and engaged students working through our activities. As well-behaved as the students were, I still think I held my breath for the entire 15 minutes of the organized chaos. Between facilitating activities and trying to elicit and engage in conversations the students were having amongst themselves, I used all of the mental power and focus I had. After the students left to go to class, Alex and I looked at each other with exhaustion and disbelief and in unison said, "how do the teachers do this everyday?"
Even for just that short time of making a two minute announcement and 15 minutes of activity time, we realized the power of building empathy. If you overcome your anxiety and step into someone else's shoes for just a short time you can truly begin to empathize with them. I am still learning how to face my fear of failure and vulnerability, but as I go through these experiences I can see the amazing outcomes–in the forms of empathy and confidence–and that just further motivates me to take that leap the next time an opportunity presents itself.
There is just one thing left to say–good teachers deserve a heck of a lot more support and recognition for their hard work!