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Are We Too Sensitive?

July 8, 2012

I remember being in nursing school and how afraid I was, afraid of hurting a patient, failing my med/surg exam, or not passing my clinical rotation because my care plans weren’t good enough. I was also afraid of some of my instructors, especially the ones with strong personalities or those who appeared unfriendly.

Some instructors are mellow. Nothing you do rattles them and they find a way to work around your petty tantrums and still teach you something. Others lead by intimidation. I’m thinking of my Ob/gyn instructor. She was a part-time instructor and I only worked with her for a couple of weeks, but those weeks were some of the most challenging of my nursing program.

They weren’t challenging because of the skills or the content but because this instructor was not an open or warm person. She did not welcome questions–about anything. Once she told you to do something, she expected you to do it, end of story. Any further requests for clarification met a withering stare. I felt shut down around her, like I couldn’t be myself. It sucked.

Now I’m the instructor. I sometimes hear from my students (after the fact, when they’re filling out their student satisfaction surveys) that I am intimidating, even in those moments when I think I’m being chill. I look back at my own clinical experiences and see that I was overly sensitive to my instructors’ feedback. One negative comment could send me reeling into a spiral of self-doubt. Maybe it’s the same for my students.

I think our teachers, if we respect them, hold the power to shape our belief of what we’re capable of and who we are in those moments of doubt and fear. But we shouldn’t let this affect our ability to handle constructive input. As an instructor, I can give three students the same feedback. One student will take this information and use it to become better in their clinical practice. The second will take it as proof that they truly aren’t as smart as everyone else. Yet a third student will convince themself they should just quit altogether.

Whether it’s a romantic relationship or the classroom, we all carry our own emotional baggage into each situation. We are full of opinions and judgments about ourselves and others, but I tend to resist the notion that I can control a student so thoroughly that my personality supersedes their own. I am not that powerful. I can influence their behavior, but only to a certain point. People will still be who they are.

Which brings me back to my original thought: are these students intimidated because of me, or because they have always been intimidated? Who is ultimately responsible for that perception, and how much do I allow that to influence how I teach?

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