What is Your Superpower?

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At midterm, I wondered about creating a space for imagination to take hold—away, if only for a moment, from the stressors students and teachers alike experience at mid-semester in and out of school. So I decided to do midterm icebreaker questions using the learning management system’s discussion board. 

My hope is that icebreakers will allow students an interactive and alternative space for writing that would also be outside the box of working on rough drafts and revisions for their first writing project. After searching the web, I found several helpful resources for questions, such as Roommate Icebreakers | Roommate Relationships from Dickinson College, Icebreaker Activities from Ohio State Teaching and Learning Center, and Online Icebreaker Ideas from the University of Washington, Bothell. 

First, the questions would not require students to disclose any personal information about themselves, their families, or friends. The questions would not make assumptions about students’ class backgrounds by asking about their childhood, travel experiences, food preferences, or living arrangements. There are so many reasons that students might feel uncomfortable about disclosing such personal details, including immigration status, food and housing insecurity, funding their own education or taking care of family responsibilities that precluded leisure time for extensive travel, or even for summer vacations. 

Next, taking inspiration from the live streamed HopePunk session that I attended remotely at 4C23, I wanted students to focus on imagination and to reflect on potentially positive aspects of their lives. The presenters for the HopePunk session, Jennie Vaughn, Cynthia Mwenja, and Erin Chandler, emphasized teaching with radical kindness toward students in a student-centered classroom. The hope is that students, in the wake of the pandemic, would extend the same kindness toward themselves. 

After much consideration, I composed the following questions:

  1. What five words describe you best and why did you choose those words?
  2. What do you value in your life? How does that value inspire your world in and out of school?
  3. What is your dream writing space and why would you want to write there?
  4. If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?
  5. What would be your superhero name and your superpower? Why?
  6. If you had to create a slogan for your life, what would it be and why?
  7. What is the strangest ice-breaker question you have been asked?

I wanted to test out the questions by attempting to respond to a question myself. The question I chose was number five: What would be your superhero name and your superpower? Why?

As a neurodivergent teacher and learner, I identified my superpower as hyper focus. Hyper focus allows me to write and plan lessons anywhere, especially on my long commutes on public transit to and from campus. I keep a small journal in my bag and write to keep track of my thoughts coming and going to class.  

There’s something about the kinesthetic work of handwriting and the intentionality of keeping a specific journal book for these purposes that doesn’t usually happen on electronic devices, even as I compose my blog digitally. The journal is an open space for free writing (in other words, perfect for hyper focus), and sometimes I can repurpose parts of the journal for more formal writing. 

Nevertheless, I struggled with creating a superhero name. But then my transfer stop came and I had to switch from the train to the bus. 

Walking delicately through the slushy remains of the previous evening snowstorm, I had a flash of insight. My superhero name would be the Masked Commuter. There are still a fair amount of commuters in my city who mask on public transit and I am one of them. I mask to fight the evils of coronavirus, and as a buffer for residual anxiety in public spaces. Anxiety, of course, is the kryptonite of hyper focus, the shadow side. Anxiety is hyper focusing on the triggers that activate anxiety. 

Flow, the superpower, is the hyper focus needed for working for a better world, fighting Coronavirus, planning lessons, teaching, and writing. Hyper focus in flow is what opens public transit as a writing space and allows me to tap into the imagination needed for teaching in person in the wake of this pandemic. Imagination then builds on the flow of hyper focus, and serves as an additional superpower for the Masked Commuter. Flow, and any superpower, can be used  to reflect and act on alternative approaches to persistent problems. The purpose, as ever, is to offer opportunities for students, and ourselves, to learn and grow as writers. 


What is your superpower?


A selfie of Susan as the Masked Commuter, posing on public transit in a black mask and winter clothes..jpg

Photo  by Susan Bernstein

January 26, 2023



About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.