After my first year in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate program at UT Tyler, I recieved this as my annual review results:
I met expectations and exceeded expectations on every category. This year, the faculty decided that I did not meet expectations in almost all areas. These are the results I recieved today:
If you’re like me, you might be wondering how I could exceed expectations academically and yet not meet expectations in every other area. You might also wonder how I meet expectations in overall progress but none of the other categories. And, like me, you might wonder how the faculty opinion of me could have changed so much in just one year. They went from singing my praises to hitting me at the knees and kicking me while I’m down.
Here’s the thing though, I don’t begrudge them this. That isn’t to say I didn’t have my moment where I cried and wondered if the universe wasn’t trying to tell me maybe this just wasn’t meant to be. Because, believe me, I had that moment. But then a calm settled over me. And I made some very important realizations.
1) I’m human. My mistakes landed me in this situation. I had a really bad summer. I confided in the wrong professor. I pushed to be in her practicum when she denied me because I didn’t want a professor who had never taught before and who didn’t practice counseling theories I ascribed to (granted I was wrong about him and I owned that). And, I fought hard for fair grading in classes where the grading just didn’t make sense (like when I did a group project and my group member who just read slides I made got a better grade than I did). I’ve not been an easy student. I’m not always an easy person. But this next part is important.
2) I’ve been in therapy for almost 2 years now and I’ve done so, so much work on myself. I used to struggle with having a voice. I used to get triggered into emotion mind so easily. I used to drop people like a hot potato because I got bored too easily. I used to self-harm. I used to have no concept of boundaries (mine or others). I used to repeat relationships where either I thought I could fix them or I hoped they would fix me. But, now, I use my voice for myself and as an advocate for others. I still get triggered but I recognize my triggers and I have a whole toolkit full of healthy skills to use for self-soothing. I’ve learned how to choose relationships that are built on mutual respect, mutual health, and mutual enjoyment of each other. I’ve learned how to identify my boundaries and communicate those boundaries. I’ve learned how to have conversations about other people’s boundaries. I’ve stopped acting so much out of emotion mind. No doubt, I still have so much more growing to do, but no matter what happens in my next committee meeting. I’m proud of how far I’ve come.
3) Faculty only sees one piece of the puzzle of me. I’ve realized that I’m not going to convince them I’ll make a good therapist by saying, “yeah, but.” We can’t force anyone to see things from our perspective. We can only offer compassionate insight. I plan to listen to their opinions. I will offer them reflection and validation. I will show them that I can really hear a person. I will show them that I can accept feedback. And I will offer them more pieces of the puzzle, from people who’ve known me my whole life. Despite that whole dropping people like a hot potato thing, I kind of have an incredible support system of people who believe a whole hell of a lot in my potential. If the committee stills stands firm, then at least I know I did everything I could. And I can feel like I went down with dignity.
4) Lastly, I just hope they can be the kind of teacher I aspired to be when I taught. I always wanted my students to feel empowered. Instead of punishing them for making mistakes and having down times, I always asked what I could do to help: how can I help you succeed. Sometimes my feedback could be hard to swallow but it was always delivered from a place of compassion. I had high expectations for my students because I believed with the proper support they could reach those expectations. I believe that the way to see students grow and achieve is not through punishment but, instead, through positive reinforcement. Believe in students until they believe in themselves. Sadly, this hasn’t been my experience with UT Tyler. I’ve asked for feedback, direct actions I could take to improve, and was given nothing. But this goal means everything to me, so I will be my own teacher. I will continue to believe in myself and support myself.
5) And I will continue to advocate for policies that don’t discriminate against those with mental illnesses. Maybe this doesn’t end in victory for me but I will make it known that if students are doing the work on themselves, then that work needs to be acknowledged. They shouldn’t be punished for being less than perfect. If we are expected to be skilled when we come into the program, then why are we even there? How is it that teachers can get away with playing God? How is it that they can say something and that be complete truth? How did I get an A in my first practicum if I lacked counseling/clinical skills? How did I get my first M.A. if I lack the ability to communicate professionally? How have I already had a successful career if I can’t form relationships? Tell me, UT Tyler, do you see me or do you just see my mental illness?
This is all I want:
To be taught.
To have my potential seen and cultivated.
To have fair policies.
To have just grading.
That’s it. If I don’t get those things, that’s okay. Because I’ve taught myself some amazing lessons throughout this process. I’ve been thrown in the fire and risen stronger. I’ve learned just how amazing my support system is. And, I’ve learned that no matter what anyone else thinks, I am inherently worthy. We are all inherently worthy.