In the past few years, the supervisory positions at both of the higher ed institutions where I teach as an adjunct have changed hands. Learning to adjust to new styles of supervision has been both difficult on the one hand and interesting on the other. At one university, the change was devastating and, within a few months, led to drastic and unwelcome changes that in turn led to the removal of every single one of the longtime teachers (including me). Thankfully, the changes at the other institution were not so dramatic. Instead, what has happened there has been both fascinating to watch and amazing to learn from.
The former director of our program at a local community college was an incredible, kind, cheerful, organized and dedicated Christian woman. Now, there’s a hard act to follow. We all loved her so and were deeply sorrowful to see her retire to a distant location. When the new director came on board, we were all skeptical. I heard that she also was a Christian, but she apparently did not wear her Christianity on her sleeve. The most visible difference in their styles was instantaneously obvious. The previous director’s office was constantly and thoroughly organized and tidy. There was never a stray paper or textbook. The first time I walked into the same office under the new director, it looked like a bulldozer had come through and left heaps of file folders and books in disorganized and messy stacks on every surface of the room. It was stunning to me that it could even be the same room.
Personally, my first semester with her did not go very well. She observed me teaching one day and the class was not exceptionally successful. It seemed that by the end of the first year, I did not know her much more than I had in the beginning. Even so, whenever I had a problem with students or entire classes, as I was accustomed to speaking with my directors, I continued to do so with her. By the end of that year, I felt that I was confiding in her too much and that she might think that I was being overly emotional and perhaps not quite capable of dealing with things myself.
The next school year started and because of another teacher’s sudden illness, she asked me at the last minute to change the class that I was going to teach. I did and in the end, it worked out quite nicely. We began to chat more often and she seemed to begin to trust me more. Now, just this last week, something happened that has become a lesson in my life that I will need to meditate on and work on to implement for years to come.
I stopped by the office the other day to check on the status of a struggling student who had gone to the tutor. It turned out that the tutor was out, but that my boss had tutored him herself. We chatted and then the chatting turned to the books we would use for next fall. She explained that she was studying the books currently being used by different teachers and told me of her frustration with how the books were not fulfilling the needs of the students. Some were too difficult. Some were not difficult enough. Students were not talking enough. They were not being required to improve their grammar. Eventually, she shared her frustrations, without naming names, of some of the teaching styles and how some of the levels had no continuity among the teachers at that level and how some of the students were being passed on to the next levels without being ready. Specifically, she was frustrated by some teachers who were more interested in being liked than in making the tough choices to hold the students to a standard. I just listened as she continued on. It seemed as though she really needed to talk it out with someone and it was very clear that she had a vision and she wasn’t going to let it go. It was almost like a dress rehearsal for the topics to be brought up at our next meeting.
After listening to her express herself, I came to a realization about the two directors and about life as a Christian. My previous director was a very nice Christian. She lived her Christianity, listened to students who came to her with their devastating problems. When they were very low, she was able to sympathize with them and help them get up off the ground. She cried with them, went out of her way to help them, and prayed with them when it was clear that they wanted her to do so. She prayed for new students to come and they came. Just before she retired, I spoke with her and she told me her story, how she came to be director and some of the things that had happened while she was director. I felt humbled, deeply moved and emotional about her story. She was a willow tree bending with the wind. In her own way, bending was her strength and many students responded well to her “willowy-ness.”
However, I can see now that she wanted so much to be a Christian that she allowed some things to continue on unchecked. She allowed some teachers to have too much freedom in what they taught. She allowed teachers at the same levels to have apparently different standards. She was wonderful, but she could only take our program so far. I’m sure that she prayed that we would get the best new director for our needs. Our new director was the answer to her prayer. Our new director is also a Christian, but she has principle. She can discern what needs to be done and she has the strength to carry it through. Although she needed to test out her ideas with me to get a little reassurance, or maybe just make it more sure in her sight, she has the strength to stand up to teachers who are used to getting their own way. She has the strength to say that “this is what we need to do to improve the integrity of our program.” She is an oak tree. She sees what is needed and she will do it as kindly, but as firmly as she knows how.
So, there are different kinds of Christians. Some have so much empathy that they can feel the difficulties that others are facing. They can get people’s attention and help them to go in the right way just by feeling and understanding and demonstrating their love. This is a start. However, to make the nitty gritty changes that will produce real results, you need a Christian with back bone, someone who will stand on principle and not tremble or flee when the earth begins to shake.
I think that sometimes we need a willow. We especially need a willow when we are at our most fragile. The willow will give us encouragement and help us to recover from the sometimes seeming cruelty of life. However, in order to truly progress, we need an oak. We need someone who is willing to tell us that we’re wrong or that we’re behaving badly. How can we know these things by ourselves? Sometimes, when we don’t understand ourselves, we need someone willing to tell us exactly what we are doing wrong. We need standards that we must abide by. Only then can we attain to those standards and pull ourselves up higher, one step at a time. Thank God for both the willow and the oak. Taking it further, am I willing to be the willow when the situation necessitates it, but in other circumstances, will I be able to be the oak? Either way, souls are at stake.
I love that you found value in both types of people. And I do think at times we may need to temporarily become an oak if we’re naturally a willow, and vice versa. My mistake has been in trying to be both simultaneously — a willoak. Trying to be more than I am all the time is exhausting and actually doesn’t work. 🙂 So it’s good to know yourself and recognize what kind of tree God made you to be. Thanks for this post!
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Yes, it does seem that we are predominantly one or the other. Sometimes a situation requires us to be more principled than other situations. I recall a time when I had a class that I really had to be tough with. If I hadn’t been tough, they would have just walked all over me. Everyday was a challenge in toughness. So, the next semester a new class came along and I tried the same tactic with them. By the third day of class, one poor lady’s husband came in to see me. He didn’t know what to do because his wife was crying so much. I changed my tactics and we had a great semester! What a lesson to learn!
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