Felt Overwhelmed Lately?

B picNothing brings out resistance from students in English class like initiation into the tedious and often frustrating details of learning to cite sources in papers. The transition is from one mindset to another that goes like this:

Instructor: “I notice that your works cited page had four sources, but your paper doesn’t have citations to show where you quoted or paraphrased from those sources.”

Student: “I read the articles and just wrote the paper from what I remembered about them.”

Instructor: “That’s plagiarism. Citing sources means indicating in your paper whenever you are using a source.”

Student: “I didn’t realize that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

What is non fiction writing?

What is non fiction writing? (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

Using sources is the opposite on the spectrum from freestyle, narrative writing of a confessional or autobiographical nature—or even expressing opinions on issues. One student exclaimed, “I feel overwhelmed.” The look on her face, however, wasn’t depressed or angry, and it wasn’t a look of, “Somebody should rescue me from having to do this.” It was the healthy version of feeling overwhelmed—the normal one that hasn’t thought to itself, “I shouldn’t ever feel overwhelmed,” or “If I feel that way, someone should remove anything that contributes to that feeling.”

Outtake - Nooo! [Overwhelmed]

Outtake – Nooo! [Overwhelmed] (Photo credit: andres.thor)

If instructors did that for students, it would stunt student growth. The truth is, everybody feels overwhelmed at times—unless one is dead. It’s a good message to share with students that the other side of the teacher station undergoes the same feelings, and probably often. One well known surgeon in Louisville once told a story about how he would feel physically ill from his emotions upon arising in the morning on surgery days. Then he would settle down and do another fantastic job like always.

Students are educating themselves in order to get better jobs, and those jobs mean more stress, not less. This is not a glorification of stress but acknowledgment that stress is a regular feature of life and not unique to any certain temperament or personality. There’s no reason to pity people when they feel overwhelmed. It’s a time to celebrate their growth into new inner capacities to manage the stress.

Big T at the Lonestar

Big T at the Lonestar (Photo credit: the Comic Shop)

An old cliché goes, “I’ve got a lot on my plate.” True, crisis situations come up, many which are heartbreaking and in need of tenderness and compassion. In the regular stresses of everyday life though, the answer might be to stretch and find a bigger plate.


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