One of my students, whom I will refer to as S, was a particularly expressive individual with seemingly boundless, exuberant energy. He was a freshman when he was in my class, and he reminded me of a puppy who hadn’t quite figured out where he needed to put his feet to run properly. His figuratively tripping, skittering, stumbling personality made him simultaneously adorable and somewhat pitiful. Coming from the middle school, I suppose S had received relatively little practice in writing papers, and when I assigned his class a 3-5 page paper in the first quarter of the school year, his eyes grew wide with shock. “THREE pages?” He asked, incredulously. “On ONE topic?” When I confirmed that yes, this was indeed the assignment, he responded, “That’s impossible! You can’t write THREE pages on ONE topic! There isn’t enough information!” I laughed and asked him to promise he would find me when he got to college and had to write 10- or 20-page papers. He stared blankly. I don’t think he could fully comprehend that I was serious.
I’ve been thinking of that scene a lot in the week and a half since my vet school classes started. They told us during orientation that we would be drinking from a fire hose, and they weren’t kidding. We have two exams this week (on Tuesday and Wednesday), the second of which is the dreaded anatomy exam. We have to know ~50 muscles, including where they attach to bones, which nerve innervates them, and which artery supplies blood to them. We also have to be able to identify the arteries, veins, nerves, answer live palpation questions, read radiographs, and know the names of the lumps and bumps on each of the bones of the forearm. We also have an immunology exam on Tuesday, and the content for our other five classes certainly hasn’t stopped. Quite the fire hose indeed.
I’m not saying all this to complain. I don’t necessarily find it to be enjoyable per se, but realized recently that I’m experiencing vet school as a rush of thrill and fear much like that I might expect from a first time skydiving. I know that I am ultimately safe – I’m strapped in to a system that knows what it’s doing and I just have to follow the guidance I’ve been given. But there’s still the chill of doubt that maybe, this time, the parachute won’t deploy. I want the rush of the experience – the flurry of facts and deeper connections built between content that makes it relevant to my future world, but I fear the looming splat of failure if I have somehow overestimated my preparation.
It’s an alien emotional world to inhabit. Never before have I been able to so thoroughly embrace life as a student, but simultaneously I know that I only fully appreciate this because I’ve been a teacher. Each time I start to think that sitting in lectures is boring, I remember the incredible opportunity before me and suddenly the complicated lecture is a positive part of my day. The fact that I spent three years away from the student side of the desk enriches the experience with a new lease on life.
I’m leaning into the fire hose. I will always let my desire for experience outweigh my fear of failure. To my innocent, naive student, even if he never reads this, I dedicate this story. My wish for him, and others like him, is that he will get the opportunity to experience and then appreciate how much more than three pages you can write on a single topic.