Spousal Unit and I are in many ways total opposites. Take worrying, for example. I worry A LOT before things happen. Then when they do, I’m just like, ok, here I am. Whatever it is, I can handle it. Spousal Unit, on the other hand, never worries. He’s chill. He’s like the coolest guy I know. Then when something happens, he’ll worry while he’s in the midst of it. The best example of this personality difference was our wedding. I couldn’t eat for six months ahead of time. I was stressed, freaked, panicked. I worried about every possible contingency. Would the flowers arrive on time? Would there be enough wine? Would the divorced parents manage to stay civil? Would an ex-girlfriend suddenly materialize and declare her love and whisk him away a la The Graduate? Would the flying monkeys attack the buffet? Would everyone get botulism from the food? (I think botulism must be my number one health worry. Definitely brought on by my mother when I was little. I can’t count the number of times I heard, “No, don’t eat that… you’ll get botulism.” I don’t even know what it is, except that it must be very bad and you get it from eating things.) In the midst of all of my craziness, Spousal Unit was cool. He didn’t care. Everything was going to be fine. Then, the day of the wedding arrives and I’m just living it and enjoying the moment, getting my hair done, shopping for snacks at the grocery with a flannel shirt on and flowers in my hair, hanging out with my friends. Then, I’m walking my own self down the isle (as a feminist statement that I was not chattel to be transferred from one man’s possession to another) and I’m just totally happy and relaxed. I get up to where he is standing and waiting. I look down at his hands and they were blue. Completely blue. Dude was not breathing. He was so nervous. I’m not sure he took a real breath for the first ten minutes of the wedding until a big-ass black ant crawled down the front of my dress and into the not-bra-bra thingey sewed in to keep things, ahem, in place, and the minister had to fish it out without letting on that she was doing so. At that point, as one might imagine, much tension was relieved and there was some subtle giggling which I think jump started his breathing again.
My first day of teaching at my very first brand-spanking-new tenure-track job definitely followed the same pattern. I was totally freaked out for the past three or four weeks. Culminating, of course, in the “I can’t do anything except watch Buffy” day on Sunday because when I stopped watching, I started to panic. Really panic, as in hands turning blue and not breathing panic. (I did some yogic breathing, I had some warm milk, I did a little meditating. None of these things, not surprisingly, relieved my panic. Complete mindless distraction was the only cure. Oh, and that honking big drink I decided to finally have around 6 p.m. probably didn’t hurt either.) I definitely didn’t sleep much on Sunday night. I kept waking up envisioning terrible scenarios. What if they ask what qualifies me to teach this class? What if they get up in the middle and walk out because I’m so boring? What if I have spinach in my teeth? What if they all get botulism? What if flying monkeys come in and carry them all away? All of these things, it occurred to me, could happen in my first day of class.
I’m sure no one is surprised to learn that no flying monkeys disrupted the class, that no one got a raging case of botulism, and, that no one got up and walked out. In fact, I think it was pretty much a success. The class was crammed full to the very brim. I had people trying to get in who aren’t registered. That was exciting. I went over the 11 page syllabus. I read them the riot act about plagiarising, and made them sign a contract stating they understood that I would fail their cheating asses if they plagiarized. I told them that if their cell phones rang in the classroom, I would answer them and tell their grandmother that they can’t talk because they’re in class. I told them that they have to write something for me every week and that they’ll have to read 100-200 pages per week on average. No one ran screaming from the room. They all looked eager and attentive, shiny and new.
After the laying-down-the law portion of the class, we did a getting-to-know-you exercise that I adapted from Histgrad. I had them all get into groups of four and talk to each other for a bit to come up with 4 things they all had in common that one wouldn’t know by looking at them. When they had done that, they returned to the group and I wrote down their four things on the board, next to four things I volunteered about myself (creme brulee is my favorite dessert, what my research is about, I hate to garden, and I’m for dogs, not cats.) Then, we went through and selected the most interesting item from each list. (We had some great ones — like we all wear boxers, we all love the ocean, we all speak a foreign language, Cinnamon Toast Crunch is our favorite cereal, we all think this room is way too hot…) I circled the most interesting one that they chose from each group, so that in the end, we had a long list of qualities/characteristics.
Then, I told them to imagine that it was 100 years from now, and we are a group of historians looking at this information and trying to decide what we know about this group of people sitting in a Small College classroom way back when in 2005. We made three lists: what do we know for sure, what can we be sort of certain about, and what we just can’t know about the people given the data we have. They did a great job — a lot of kids spoke and volunteered ideas. And they came up with some interesting things. When we’d exhausted that, I told them that this is what historians do. They take limited information from the past about the past, and try to make arguments and stories about that past given the material they have to work with. I think they actually got it. And, they remained interested the whole time. So, I’ll chalk that up as a success despite the fact that I stumbled a bit over my words in the beginning syllabus reading, and that it was so hot in the room that I had small armpit stains that I’m sure they saw since I was doing a lot of writing on the board. (Armpit stains are right up there with spinach in my teeth on the embarrassment scale, I’m thinking. I NEVER sweat. AND, I had re-applied antiperspirant right before class. Damn, that room was hot!) But, I think more important than my embarrassment was that a number of students stayed after class to talk to me. One about becoming a history major, one about the study skills center, and one just to introduce herself. It was great. My number one goal in the classroom is to make students feel comfortable enough to ask for help.
And, they all called me Professor Stewgad in all earnestness without any irony or giggling.