29 October 2013

The She who taught me how to make the right decisions

“Dare, and the world always yields:
or, if it beats you sometimes, dare again, and it will succumb.” 
William Makepeace Thackeray


I've lain sleepless in bed overwhelmed with thoughts for almost a week. There were so many things which had to be done and my afternoons and weekends - for that very reason - no longer exist.

I'm talking about assignments, projects, homework and not to mention the group projects. I loathe the latter, not because I don't like it but because I keep ending up with the wrong people in a group. And one group project I had since before the autumn break just had to be made worse last week by the silliest things.

The common case scenario is me being the only one in the group with the ideas, the suggestions, the questions and the glue that holds the group together until the goal is reached. Often enough I end up at a disadvantage due to the fact that I either did most - if not all - of the work and the others get the (good) grade, or I get the (shit) grade for the work that the others did not attend to.

Our group project planning for a presentation went well - or so I thought - to the point that every task was being delegated and everybody in the group knew who was in charge of what. After a group meeting I sat down on my computer until past midnight to work on my part of the project and was proud of it.

Until the very next day.

That was when I received a message from one of my group members - I will name her The She - telling me that she:
  • can't find any information about the subject on the internet
  • has no time to put it all together
  • thinks that what we planned for was absolutely unnecessary, complicated and difficult
  • wants to celebrate her birthday over the weekend, planned it already months ago
  • already had to cancel her short weekend trip to God-knows-where
  • is sure that we should go to the school principal to complain about our teacher for preponing our presentation date, therefore making us go through more than we should on a school day
By now she had written two e-mails to the teacher to ask for a later presentation date. There was no answer. I advised her to wait a bit because who knows? Perhaps she didn't check her e-mails just yet. The She was so frustrated that I told her, well if it helps, then write another e-mail. And she did. She showed the e-mail to me and to my surprise, it was an e-mail written with such an expression that no student should use to or at a teacher:

I quote: "....We as a group will keep to our former presentation date. If you do not reply to this e-mail then we will assume that you agree to our decision."

You may write something like that in Singapore... perhaps in Malaysia.... perhaps also anywhere else in the world. But in Germany, as a student, that's like digging your own grave. That's exactly what you would do if you'd like to fail miserably or get into some embarrassing trouble.

The She asked me if she should send the email. I said wait, don't, I want to read it first.
But she sent it off anyway before I could finish. And what better than to write it in the names of those in the group, including mine.

Eventually The She wanted a complete change for our project. New plan. Everything. Furthermore she wanted to summarize certain PDF-Documents which she had found online and take that word-for-word and use it in the presentation. My only problem with that would be: that's just plain lazy, disinterested and the teacher is not stupid.
Then there was another problem... My part of the project is done. I was ready for the whole action. If we were to start again, we wouldn't only not have time but it would also mean that I'd have to chuck my hours and hours of work aside and start again. 
Now, do I really want that?

I offered The She help and support. I went online to help her and asked her how I could help even more. And I didn't get through. I kept thinking and worrying about what would become of my work and what would become of my grade? Do I really have to suffer the consequences just because one person is so lazy use her own brain when there's nothing to be found on the internet?
Do I really have to do everything? Give answers to everything?

I thought we were clear about the plan. No one said anything about anything being too difficult or complicated during our group meeting. Everyone said okay. So why the sudden change of mind?
I tried to motivate The She... but she kept pressing on and on about wanting to complain to the principal, about what a silly idea our plan was and about her damned birthday that she wanted to celebrate at any cost. 

I was confused, I didn't know how to react, I let her push me around for awhile and I pulled back.

That night I lay in bed, eyes wide open, insomnia... I was thinking and thinking.
The next morning I woke up with a motivation I had never felt before - I wanted out.
I had all my reasons to leave and I was so prepared that I had nothing left to lose. So I informed the teacher that I officially left the group and she was entirely fine with that. I did not tell my group before that because I had lost my respect for (one of) them. It's like being in a family where two people are doing the talking and the rest just stop and stare and show their reactions according to what just happened in the moment. It's just way too weird. And if they could suddenly change their mind then I could too - then they would know what it feels like.

The She reacted with such anger that further confirmed my impression of her. I didn't want to believe it... how she threw the blame at me, how she called me selfish, how she turned my words around, became all sarcastic and eventually cut me off from trying to explain why it was necessary. In my honest opinion she should be thankful that I presented today, coz now she has all the time and freedom in the world to change her plans for the project.

Today was the day that I conducted my first 45-minute lecture in German about children's outdoor playing areas - a comparison between what it was like in the past, what it is like now and how it's possibly going to turn out in the future. 
It was hard to start with at first when another student (the rocker-type kind of guy who wears a thick ring on each finger) tried to literally throw me off track by interrupting me and putting me on the line - "What is this? You're doing a group project alone?" he said. "Since when does that even make sense? Where's YOUR group?"

Then I found out that The She had vented out to the teacher over the phone and been spreading rumours about me in school about how evil of a witch I am to have left the group standing in the rain.

To the gentleman's statement I said however, "I'm here today not to justify myself to you or to discuss the situation. I'm here today to conduct my presentation." And he was surprised - not to mention deeply frustrated - that I cut him off right there.
Just because I'm a woman who dared to make a hard decision doesn't give him the slightest right to even try to push me off track. I can be just as harsh as any survivor on this planet, if I choose or have to.
And so my teacher approved of that, "You don't have to justify yourself, Ira. Please carry on."
Strange that the teacher seemed to have gotten my back.

And so I did.
It was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life and even though it was a decision that was very hard to make, I don't regret it. In fact I'm glad. 45 minutes flew by so fast and the entire presentation was generally well received by the rest of the class. It was refreshing, one said. And the teacher? Well she was impressed to have seen something new. It was not just a presentation, it was a graded test. And I passed.

I'm relieved that I'm done with this shit presentation. Of course I'm disappointed that the group project didn't turn out at all. I had never in my life - not even in school - left a group to save my own ass. But I have suffered enough in the hands of others, who either consciously or subconsciously use me to their own advantage.

This time I nipped it. Nipped it right in the bud. I'm a generally nice person, I love to help and I enjoy working with others who show just as much interest in their work as I do, but today I also showed the rest of the class that I don't entertain - let alone fuel - childish behaviour among full-grown adults. 

It's past midnight now.
Tomorrow's a shorter school day and hopefully less dramatic than today.

I learned so much from this... and I'm sure that if you were me, you would too.