Castles in the air – even now.

Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Duich, Scotland.

Colleagues and I have been sharing lots of ideas about how to help students cope with the ambient uncertainty of life and futures in the pandemic – heightened by the uncertainty of election day today, all of which can create anxiety it’s hard to see beyond. So to the excellent resources here (thanks to Luther’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching) and to some good election conversations hosted by our Center for Ethics and Public Engagement, I’ll add mine: a writing reflection designed to offer a path forward and perhaps at least a little sense of control.

In my Advanced Creative Writing class, we’re learning about the literary industry and working together on resumes and cover letters. Today, fizzing and nervous,  before we turned to work on our own stories in small groups, we pondered this line from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Then we jotted some private thoughts to these questions, which are useful in professional and personal ways:

— What is “my castle” – the dream I’m reaching for?

— What are three capacities I will need to have / show / demonstrate to be competitive for this – now or in the future? [Good examples from students: “be curious” and “know something about this subject area but also about its history – what conversations have been going on before I showed up.”

— What are three concrete things I can do in the next three weeks to take steps toward my castle’s door?

— If I needed someone to write me a positive, specific reference to get into my castle, a) who might I reach out to, and b) when will I schedule a conversation with that person to talk about what that reference might look like and how I might position myself for it, even if I don’t need it right now? (Here’s my recommendation letter policy, and the reasoning behind it.)

— “A year from now, what will I wish I had done now?”

— “This habit/club/process/thing I’m doing / way I’m going about things – is it getting me the results that I want?”

Fellow teachers, what are some things you’re doing to help your students through?