By : Carolyn Hough, BA Hons EN 2016
For as long as I’ve known myself (a pretty long time), I’ve known two things to be true: I love to read and I want to be a teacher. Both of these facts led me to Laurier, led me to the English department, and led me to Residence Life.
When I first arrived at Laurier I moved into a single room in Willison Hall, and had absolutely no idea what I had gotten myself into. My first university class ever was an upper year French class of 20 people, and is an experience I still consider to be one of the scariest of my life. In contrast, my first English class was “Reading Fiction,” and amid the 150 people in N1001, I felt right at home. We studied an extraordinarily wide range of literature, from Pride and Prejudice, a longtime favourite, to graphic novels in the form of Maus. I loved every second of it.
Through the encouragement of my own Residence Life Don, I applied to be a part of the First Year Leadership Program in Willison, House Council, and spent the eight months of my first year being happily pulled out of my comfort zone. I fell in love with Residence and the friendships it had given me, and with my naive first year eyes, applied to be a Don. Again, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.
My three years of being a Don were nothing short of an adventure. Over the years, I had the privilege of being a Don to over 80 students, an advisor to about 40, a coach to around 60, and a presence to approximately 400. And while I originally thought that guiding and leading students was simple and clear, black and white, I quickly discovered that growth is a relative term, that everything is a teachable moment, and that learning does not stop when you step outside of a classroom.
I discovered that there was more than one way to be a teacher. I could take the traditional route, the expected route, and graduate with a degree of teachable subjects, ready to take on teacher’s college, then battle an ever growing list of qualified teachers for a classroom of my own. Or, I could take a look outside the four walls of a lecture hall, the pages of a textbook, and see the way that a fresh start, a friendship, a guiding hand, and an opportunity to be unashamedly yourself, screw ups and all, could teach someone so much more than a math equation, or iambic pentameter, or the strategies that make a business successful, ever could. I was able to witness, over eight months, hundreds of fresh faced high school graduates stumble their way through first year and come out the other side with purpose, enthusiasm, and a stronger sense of self. Sometimes those eight months were full of teachable moments, and sometimes the experience itself was enough of a teacher.
I am by no means exempt from the learning influence that Residence enacts on people. I entered donning a fresh faced first year student and over the next three years I learned more than I ever cared to know about team dynamics and work ethic. I learned how to survive on very little sleep and that when I had the opportunity to sleep, earplugs were a necessity. My time as a Don honed my multitasking and time management skills as I dealt with first years who were away from home for the first time (and all the things that brings) while reading at least a Shakespeare play a week. I learned that I work best when things are on the verge of chaos, and that every time I thought I couldn’t possibly do more, I surprised myself. I learned that the best friendships are formed at 3:00am when you’re collectively facing down the chaos that is Halloween or Homecoming or even just a Friday night. I learned that chocolate, a comfy couch, and an open door brings people together more than you could possibly imagine. I learned the advantage of giving a single warning, of remembering people’s names, of regarding even the most infuriating students with unconditional positive regard. I learned how to learn from those around me, first years, or colleagues, or supervisors. And I learned how to turn life in Residence into a teaching moment.
When it came time for me to graduate, I wasn’t quite ready to give up this more holistic and life-centered way of teaching. Before I even got my degree in June, I was offered a job with Campus Living Centres at Seneca Newnham in Toronto as a Residence Life Coordinator. Having read, absorbed, and analyzed texts as difficult as Beowulf and Ulysses, I am well-prepared for learning the complexities of a new institution. And while a lot of things about my life have changed, the same two things about me are true: I love to read, and I am a teacher.