Author: Karen Copeland
In what feels like a lifetime ago, I attended a college program that required practicum placements. I really enjoyed this program, and had been very pleased with my practicum experiences – they were great opportunities for learning, for putting into practice what I was learning in the classroom. I was a good student. I was passionate and enjoyed what I was doing and learning, and because of that, I excelled.
In my second year of the program, this all changed. I was given a placement, that on the surface seemed like it would be a good fit. I was looking forward to connecting with the residents and furthering my learning once again. I met with the placement supervisor in advance, I recall it being an awkward conversation but I couldn’t really pinpoint why. Nevertheless, I looked forward to my first day.
It didn’t take long for things to start to go sideways. It seemed like I couldn’t do anything right and this was pointed out in not very supportive ways. I knew I was still learning, I tried harder but it never seemed good enough. I candidly shared with one of the staff members that I hoped to be a teacher one day. When it came time for my first evaluation, this was thrown back in my face – about how teachers only teach because they can’t DO. In terms of the total evaluation, it was made quite clear that I had no idea what I was doing, with each category being marked a 1 out of 5. Additionally, the evaluation failed to provide any suggestions on how I could improve.
It was all I could do to make it through the rest of my shift. I felt very ashamed, and not only that, I began to question my skills. Was I really simply “book smart” with no aptitude for practical application? I remember retreating to my car at the end of the evening, bursting into tears, unable to drive away because the emotional release caused my body to convulse. And I couldn’t see anyway because I couldn’t stop crying. I was to attend a commitment that evening, but I couldn’t bring myself to go. This annoyed the people I had committed to, but I simply could not overcome the intense emotional breakdown I was having in that moment. I finally made it home, crawled into my bed and sobbed myself to sleep.
I continued the placement, but things did not improve. I didn’t tell my college supervisor right away, but she soon discovered what was going on when she received a copy of the evaluation report. By this time, I was having regular anxiety attacks on the days of my shifts, it was difficult for me to attend the placement. Upset stomach and sleep issues became a part of my everyday life. I wanted to quit. I was encouraged not to, to stick with it because if I quit it would mean my graduation would be delayed.
I stuck with it, and I started noticing that the fear and power tactics were not just reserved for me, they were employed against other staff members as well as the residents. I had a very clear understanding of what “walking on eggshells” meant, because no one knew what kind of reaction or response would occur during each shift.
Towards the end of my placement, I started to receive more positive feedback. That I was doing well. Honestly, it meant nothing to me. I truly felt like all that had happened was for this one individual to grind me down into nothing, so I would be grateful to receive positive feedback. I wasn’t grateful. I was merely surviving until I no longer had to be there.
When my placement ended, I felt immense relief. But with that relief came a loss of passion for my chosen studies. I wasn’t as sharp with my assignments and exams, and I coasted to the end of my program. I look back on this and feel disappointed with myself for allowing someone to have such a tremendous impact on me. To this day, when I am feeling a great deal of passion or feel like I am excelling at something, I go back to that experience and wonder if I am simply an imposter. Pretending…
If there was one thing the experience did teach me, it was learning WHO I didn’t want to be. I wanted and try to be the person who builds people up, who encourages their strengths, who chooses not to demoralize another human being to the point that she would feel worthless. I do my best to carry this forward in my parenting, choosing love and encouragement over fear and control based tactics. I try to find the good in the situations, to measure my tone of voice and body language. Aiming for problem solving together. Am I always successful? You all know the answer to that…I am not! But I keep on trying, evaluating where I have gone wrong, apologize and continue going forward.
It’s not always easy, but I am getting better at it. Why? Because I know how I felt all those years ago, and how that experience impacted me, not just then, but for all this time after. I want to encourage my children, not shame them. I want to let them know they matter, not make them feel worthless.
Perhaps I have become the teacher I wanted to be after all.