Teaching: Year Two

(This entry is brought to you by the fact that Tim O’Brien is going to read my short story and I’m freaking out and not writing and not writing and procrastinating and not writing and this is one of the products.)

The fall semester just concluded its fifth week of classes, meaning we are ~1/3 the way through already.  It’s kind of hard to believe; I’ve kept myself more busy than usual and time is flying.  Teaching feels a lot different this year, a lot easier, and so I’d like to take a moment to jot down some of my guesses as to why (although I am not entirely sure).

Repetition.  First of all, most obvious, repeating some of the things I taught last year means less work for me, because I don’t have to replan those lessons that went well.  Second, I’ve been given a chance to remove the lessons that didn’t go well.  Third, the stuff that I’ve kept from last year I’m able to anticipate a little better what is going to bring the most discussion, what is going to cause the most tripping.  As an example, last year we went to the library for a class on the basics of research, and it didn’t go very well because most of the class didn’t even know what their topics were yet.  This time, we spent a whole class on picking out a topic the day before the library, and I assigned them having a topic as homework, and that made our visit to the library much more focused.  Not perfect, but better.

Confidence.  I don’t just mean being in front of a room full of people – I think I got used to that fairly quickly.  I don’t mean confidence in being a voice of authority, or confidence in the material, which, again I felt I had last year.  Instead, I have a confidence in where we’re going as a class.  I can tell the students what I think they’re going to get out of the writing, I can tell them where I think they’ll have difficulties, and I can tell them what they’re going to wish they had taken notes on.

Building on confidence, I’m able to be a little bit more candid, a little bit more honest.  If your first year of teaching is all about faking it as you make it, then the second year, in my experience, is about dialing that back until you find a comfort zone.  This is stupid little things like “I don’t like teaching this part, but you’re going to be glad I did when you go to turn in a paper for x.  Let’s work through it together.”  I think a lot of people confuse being candid with being the students’ friend, which is a dangerous territory.  I can be up front with the process of teaching the class without losing my role as guide.

Not taking it personally.  Definitely my biggest problem last year (and something I’ve written about here before) was thinking that I did something wrong every time a student didn’t do their reading or missed class.  It took a while for me to remember that when I was 18, I missed a lot of classes and I didn’t do a lot of homework, and it rarely had anything to do with the professor.  You forget the varying levels of commitment that people come into a classroom with once it’s your job, I think.  Actually, being in graduate school and sitting next to people who are paying more attention to their phone than the seminar helped ground me.

Giving up some battles.  I’m definitely less stressed this year because I’m not worrying about cell phones and I’m not sending out as many reminder emails and I’m not picking up as many in-class assignments.  The person who did our training has a great mantra – “You should be doing less work than the students.”  That wasn’t true for me last year, but I’m working on it.

Part of my better feeling is just residuals from last year, e.g. seeing a student randomly in the wild who was excited to see me and tell me about his second year of college.

I get my first real batch of essays on Tuesday.  Let’s see how I feel after those are digested.


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