IV Mindfulness and Integrative Social Work
There Is a Path. You Are on It. It Does Lead Somewhere.
After I dispensed with the necessities of housekeeping at the beginning of our first meeting, I asked the class to indulge me in a brief exercise. “Imagine you haven't met the teacher for this class yet and you're waiting for him to arrive. I'm going to re-enter the room and introduce myself. It won't take long. You just need to observe and give me your impressions.”
Out in the hallway, I pulled out a shirttail, loosened my tie, messed up my hair, and rolled one sleeve higher than the other. I then stuffed all my paper materials under one arm, clutched my briefcase awkwardly in the other, and opened the door. I trudged across in front of them to the lectern and dumped my belongings on top of it. A few stray items cascaded to the floor. I paused, sighed, ambled over to the black board, wearily wrote my name, broke the chalk, sighed, reloaded, and listlessly added the name of the course underneath. I returned to the lectern, leaned heavily onto it with my elbows, and, stifling a belch, looked toward the class. I told them I was asked to teach this at the last minute—which meant we were stuck with each other.
I cut the scene and tidied myself to a ripple of laughter, then asked for what they had noticed. I wanted descriptive data first and then an evaluative judgment. This was my way of introducing the concept of contracting as a key component of working with individuals and groups. In most new relationships, both parties carry in two essential questions: Who are you? and How is this going to work? These questions get answered through the establishment of agreements and expectations. Some aspects of the contract get formulated explicitly, others implicitly.
We examined the impersonation exercise for aspects of contracting. They agreed that the process had begun as soon as the instructor had entered the room. My plan was to use the impersonation to introduce contracting as a concept while simultaneously beginning to contract with the class regarding what kind of teacher I would be and how we would proceed. This happened in the earliest days of my teaching career in 1998.
Although this plan ostensibly served the course and students, its primary effect was to ease me into the unfamiliar role of classroom teacher. I had facilitated hundreds of hours of training and education for mental health professionals, but teaching a college class seemed more formal and sophisticated. This was about being an expert—an authority on everything in the text. Just standing in front of the class and being myself was not going to cut it. That was too frightening. In order to soothe myself and ease my way into this unfamiliar territory, I borrowed from the familiarity of my acting and theater background. I knew I could not simultaneously enjoy the role of apathetic teacher and remain frightened at the same time. By committing to this strategy, enjoyment would trump fear—at least temporarily. And it worked. By creating a role within a role, I discovered I could hide out behind a character and avoid being myself. This clever capacity to hide out is something I have struggled to unlearn as I attempted over many years to recover the person of the teacher and integrate more of my whole self into the role. What follows is a synopsis of that process.
My sloppy professor role first debuted at a community college. I hung onto him for several years thereafter and took him with me to my current setting. He continued to make appearances during the first few years I taught the course under examination in this chapter. Micro Practice in Social Work II is the second part of a sequence for first-year students in the Master of Social Work (MSW) program. However, my course is taught in the summer to incoming advanced standing students as a bridge between their Bachelor of Social Work program and the second year of the MSW curriculum, which they begin in the fall.
The master syllabus charged me with fulfilling 11 course objectives, such as “Students will demonstrate the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of practice interventions.” Additional directives call for a demonstration of knowledge and skills that are “accurate, clear, systematic, and comprehensive” covering treatment models, assessment, interventions, outcomes, goals, minorities, middle and ending phases, individuals, groups families, theories, ethical implications, social justice, oppression, advocacy, case management, community resources, use of self, evaluation of practice, and intervention effectiveness. Additional mandated infusions were expanded over time, including human diversity, critical thinking, global perspectives, and an evidence base for all of it. This syllabus listed 35 book chapters and 15 articles as required reading, in addition to a theory presentation, case analysis, group analysis, and case conference assignment. The master syllabus was 5 pages long, and my own final version eventually topped out at 12 pages once I listed the assignments, grading system, and numerous policies in granular detail.
While teaching as an adjunct, my primary, full-time job at the school is Assistant Director of Field Education, wherein I develop and troubleshoot internships for MSW students. I also facilitate ongoing seminars to train firsttime field instructors in supervision of interns. Upon arrival in the job, I asked permission to sit in on some classes to see what students were learning preparatory to field. I expected they were learning practice skills in class, but this was my presumption. Through PowerPoint presentations, they were learning the names and purposes of skills, but the pace was brisk and permitted little more. I wondered, “Perhaps the depth is being delivered in advanced electives?” I confessed my perplexity to a senior faculty confidant. Her outburst of laughter startled me: “Haven't you heard the saying ‘a mile wide and an inch deep'—that's the social work curriculum” (Padgett, 2008).