Well, here it is. I can’t really believe it, but I am absolutely almost no longer a first-year professor. Only 71 student papers stand between me and absolute freedom (which in some circles is more commonly known as “the dissertation.” Cue ominous music…dum dum duuuuummmm.)
I don’t really know how it happened, but I managed to survive my first year of teaching. And I didn’t even kill anybody. (Unless you count the exploding bird, the chipmunk, and the small rat-like unidentified thing I hit with the car getting back and forth to campus in the past 9 months.) But, anyway, I was really thinking that I didn’t kill any students. No matter how tempted. I didn’t kill (or even kick) the dozer who slept through almost every class DISCUSSION, nor the one who never turned anything in and yet still came to my office asking if s/he were going to pass my class, nor the one who could not stop talking while I lectured. I didn’t even once reply rudely to the student who emailed me 3 times a day to check if what s/he is writing on the current assignment was “OK” — read: please tell me my grade before I have to turn in the assignment. All in all, pretty good. I even have my first entry on Rate My Prof. (I wasn’t given a HOT, alas. 🙂 But, I was rated very high on everything except easiness. Not bad. Yes, I’m still starry-eyed enough and vain enough to enjoy Rate My Prof…)
As an added survival bonus, Spousal Unit still seems to want to keep me. Given that he did all of the laundry and dishes (pretty much) for the past academic year, I’m a bit in awe. Likewise my department and most of my friends seem willing to keep me around. (Well, “most” may be a bit of an exaggeration. I think I’ve got at least a few pissed-off friends and family members out there who haven’t heard from me in 9 months and are wondering if I’m really the rude, arrogant, and uncaring bastard that I come off as given my utter failure at email correspondence.)
Anyway, in the interest of ‘splaining (in the words of the immortal Inigo Montoya), or perhaps just summing up, I want (as Spousal Unit says) – to do my “Tomorrow Self” (or “Next Semester Self”) a big favor and offer her some advice.
The Top 5 Things I Learned This Year:
1. Plan WAY ahead.
I’ve been trying to learn this one on other stuff for year with little success. I only managed to be really prepared it about 1/3 of the time this semester, but I was so much happier when I had all of the handouts and all of the prep and all of the lectures done at least a week ahead of time. It may be unrealistic to shoot for this every week of the semester, but it’s my goal for next year. And if I can’t achieve it, hell, I’d be happy with having read the assignment that I myself had assigned at some point before the hour before class was meeting.
2. Grade First.
I still hate the grading. More than anything else. Well, almost. I never got the hang of just doing it and getting it out of the way. (She says as she stacks the laptop on top of the 71 papers in order to type her first blog entry in months…)
3. Trust the Students.
I can’t count the number of times I’d freak about about something ahead of time, and then get into class, pitch it to the students, and watch them run with it. At times they were so patient and earnest — and just willing to go wherever I was pointing. And usually, they’d find a new direction and make the whole project so much more interesting than I had thought. They were just great.
4. But don’t TRUST the Students.
They need limits, and boundaries, and rules in order to feel comfortable with themselves and with others in the classroom. I didn’t have any plagiarists (so far), and I think my cell phone policy was becoming legendary, so the rules were (as far as I know) mostly working. But, the first class of first-year students in the fall where I didn’t lay down the law early enough to curtail the talking in class and horsing around just never got better. And I heard from a repeat student from that class that it had really annoyed her and was distracting to everyone else. So, next time I’ll know — address problems early and often. They won’t go away on their own and it is my responsibility as the course leader/manager to deal with them.
5. Make Time for Yourself.
Or else you will take it anyway at a moment where you don’t ACTUALLY have time for it. (Witness the blogging on top of 71 papers that must be read in the next 48 hours…) There were points this semester when I was so burnt out, I just felt like I had nothing left. I gave to the teaching all I had — for better and for worse. And while I think it paid off in some ways, in other ways it was not such a great plan. Like when I was so exhausted I slept through the whole spring break, so I was behind on my grading when classes resumed — which didn’t situate me very well for managing the class for the next few months after I had to skip a week of classes because a close family member passed away. If I had followed rules 1 & 2 & 5 for the whole semester, I wouldn’t have been so exhausted during spring break, and I could have been better situated to deal with the emergency. Emergencies happen, and I would have been in such a better place if I had had some internal resources to draw on at that point. And, consequently, I think I would have been a better teacher through the rest of the semester.
Anyway, there it is — my advice to myself. Hopefully I’ll listen to me when the time comes. But, I have a tendency to ignore good advice (like when Histgrad (and many others) told me back in August: “Stewgad, don’t assign so many papers!!!”)
To sum up the summing up: Overall, I feel older, wiser, sadder, more tired, and at the same time really fulfilled. Ultimately, I can really boil the whole semester down to one moment last week when a senior came in to turn in her final paper for my Women’s History class. While we were chatting about what she was planning next, out of the blue she told me that she hadn’t wanted to take the class because she pretty much hated history, but she hadn’t had a choice because it was required for her major. Then, she told me that she was so glad she had taken it because it turned out to be one of her favorite courses that she had taken her whole time in college, and that she was so happy to have had the chance to have me as a professor before she left college.
That alone makes it all worthwhile.