Surrendering to academia and being present

Children are the best assessors of their teachers! It’s a fact. Ask the children and they will tell you who is fun, whose lessons they love, and who they really don’t like. The same goes for graduate students! So why in academia are we judged merely by the number of peer reviewed journals we publish? Publishing books, writing blogs, TV appearances, organizing conferences, developing intervention services, training teachers etc, etc don’t count. The professors commodity is-How many peer reviewed journal articles have you published? Until that changes the young professor has no choice but to publish.

I have been an interventionist/clinician for 15 years and an academic for only 2.5 years. During my first two years as a professor there seemed to be a ghostly whisper in the corridors of Hunter and all around Manhattan saying ‘publish or perish, publish or perish…’. I constantly felt that I had not done my homework and the stress dreams started to appear. I loose my wallet, I can’t find my bag, I need to catch a train, but in every dream I end up being ok and it works out. I find my wallet, I catch my train and my bag is where it should be.

What had happened? I had stopped enjoying the process of writing and the threat of you won’t make tenure became a cause of anxiety. Nothing in life is permanent and I had never in the past worried about not having a job. I know things always work out. But all of sudden a shift had happened and I was anxious about my future. How can you be anxious about something that has not even happened? Sitting at my desk became a battle as opposed to a retreat or a time when I could reflect. Then in the last 6 months something quite miraculous happened. It hit me. Joy is the essence of success not the other way round. I had been successful as an interventionist because I loved working with children and their families, it gave me tremendous joy. When you work with a 2 year old with a language disorder you have to be present and fully aware. Your focus is with the child, on where they are and facilitating their development but you never know what will happen in two or three years. The focus is always ‘What can we do now?’. It is the perfect combination of development and behavioral intervention. Where is the child developmentally? Where does he need to be? What do we do NOW.

So what is my now? Now I am an academic and a teacher. I live in NYC which is an incredible city. I am blessed with a job which I love, people I enjoy working with and great students who will be great teachers. It is where I am supposed to be and I have to accept that. When the time to change comes I will know it but for now I have to go with the flow and not resist. Rather than focusing on the product (completed journal articles) the lesson of presence and living in the Now had to be practiced in my writing. It is working and I am doing other things I love. I have been sketching at the Met, doing my yoga, going to plays and spending time with friends.

I just had to start and accept where I am. As soon as I did this two incredible mentors appeared one after the other. My first mentor, who is not in special education, got me on the right track and looked at my pile of unfinished manuscripts and helped me prioritize them. My second mentor has been helping me with my first manuscript, has been monitoring my progress and reading the parts I have finished. When I see her and say something that reflects a future project. She wisely says, “Where do you stand with the manuscript Donia?” and for that I am grateful as she brings me back to where I am now.


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