March 28, 2014

My Ego Gets Schooled.


One thing I hate more than anything is when someone tells me I am wrong when I am right.

I find it infuriating.

I am not a know-it-all; I don’t try to pretend to know things when I don’t and I am not embarrassed to ask for help in understanding something. It’s when I know I am right and I am told point blank that what I am saying is not true or wrong that I want to punch someone.

Tonight was one of those nights.

I have been working as a sign language interpreter for almost 20 years. I went to school for it, received my degree, worked toward getting my certification and dedicated a good bit of my life to honing my skills. I have been teaching American Sign Language for about 16 of those 20 years and I love it. Teaching gives me a chance to introduce the average person to Deaf culture, dispel myths surrounding Deaf people and occasionally propel a student toward a new career.

I put a lot of time into preparing for my classes. The courses I teach are non-credit at a local community college so I am not required to provide a specific lesson plan but over the years I have tweaked it, swapped out materials and refined it to what it is today. I bring in guest speakers that provide a variety of language variances and abilities and pay attention to class feedback in an effort to constantly improve.

I do all of this not because of the money, which averages 50 dollars a week, but because I want to do a good job. I want my students to walk away with a complete picture and have fun while they are at it. I want to provide a quality experience.

Tonight began a new class. I had a student I wasn’t familiar with who told me he takes sign language at a church and had a deaf “lady friend.” He attempted to sign this to me, but I understood very little of what he was saying. No problem. I am a patient person so I asked him to repeat it. He looked at me like I was an idiot and clumsily repeated his signs. I inquired this time using my voice and he told me what he said. With my biggest, most genuine smile, I show him how to correctly sign what he was saying. He told me I was doing it wrong.

This was when my inner most self turned to look at him and say WTF? While I didn’t voice this (or sign it) I proceeded to explain the difference between what he was doing and the correct way, in which his response was to simply shake his head. I took a deep breath and moved on—at least that was the plan.

Throughout the rest of the class this student stopped me repeatedly to show me his sign for the word or to look at me with a dumbfounded expression and shake his head. I could feel my patience wearing thin fast and my internal dialogue was going something like this: Hello, dude! I am the teacher. I am the one who is trained in this. I am the one who has been communicating with Deaf people for the last 20 years. 

By the end of my class I was exhausted. I hadn’t gotten through all of the material I had planned for and spent a good deal of the class back pedaling in my explanations and defending myself. Packing up my things I noticed from the corner of my eye that he was lingering in the classroom. I tried to look busy. I tried to look like I was in a hurry. I silently begged for another student to stay behind in class and ask a question, but my student heckler remained.

As I put on my coat he thanked me for class and asked if I minded if he brought his books. I told him of course he could bring them and then he asked to bring his friend. I told him of course he could bring her. And then when he left it occurred to me that I spent so much energy working to validate myself that I had forgotten why I was there—to teach.

So what if I am experienced? Who says I don’t have something new to learn? Maybe my student knows something I don’t. Maybe the lesson is to teach me patience. Maybe I am learning how to deal with difficult people or maybe, just maybe I am getting a lesson in how to control my ego.

Oh dear ego, how you hate to be confronted.

The thing that drives me crazy is when someone tells me I am wrong when I know I am right. And so I begin again—as a student.

“Ego is the immediate dictate of the human consciousness.” ~ Max Planck


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo credit: Flickr

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