I think I might just love this job.
Three incidents confirmed this today:
1. My class of first-year students are starting to feel comfortable enough to ask the questions they think are “stupid,” which of course are not, both because everyone else wants to know them and because in my book all questions are great. I feel like they are reaching a level of comfort with each other and trust of me that makes it possible for them to admit that they’re confused or that they don’t know something. This is, of course, great. Because when they say they are confused, I ask them to tell me what they think is going on. And they’re almost always right. So, I get to do the wonderful job of saying, “hey… you’re right! You’re on the right track, and are doing great work. Keep it up!” This is always fun.
2. In my other section, after my lecture on the transition in colonial America from indentured servitude to racial slavery, a student said to me: “Wow. I never knew that there was anything before Slavery. That is really amazing. Why did I never learn this before? I’m so glad to know this now.” This is the kind of thing that teachers live for — hearing that someone had learned something new — and that the new information was both exciting and changed/challenged what she thought about the past. I was so pleased and proud and glad that she had told me. It totally made my day.
3. A student from my first-year class came to my office to talk about techniques for speaking in class because he is really uncomfortable speaking in public. I had told them at the beginning of the semester (on the first day, in fact) that if they were worried about this, they should come and see me to talk about it. I’m really glad he took me up on the offer. I suggested that he write things down and look for an opportunity to share them so that instead of having to come up with things on the fly, he felt confident and secure in what he was bringing to the table. I also told him that questions are a great way of participating — and that he could write those down ahead of time as well. He asked me how to get over this fear of public speaking, because he knows he’s going to have to talk in class for the rest of college. I suggested that practice was the easiest way — that he should start slowly and see what he can become comfortable with. He seemed game, and said he’d check back in in a few weeks if things just weren’t happening. I told him I’d do a little digging on how to help students get over their fear of public speaking and pass the info along. Any suggestions out there?
Anyway, these encounters almost make up for the tedium of grading, which stupidly, I created the maximum possible amount for myself. I assigned a short writing assignment every week — which I absolutely believe in as the best way to measure what students are picking up on and therefore of measuring what I need to do more work on to help them figure out. I also believe absolutely that it is the best way to help them become better analytic thinkers and writers. But, man, in my first year this is a heavy load and a bit overwhelming. Yesterday I found myself ironing placemats rather than grade. I have been known to stand with a hairdryer blowing on my skirt for 20 minutes rather than busting out the iron. So that gives you an indication of how desperate I was. And it was only the first assignment.
But then, today I got reminded again and again why the grading and the exhaustion is completely worthwhile.