Monday, August 3, 2009

Another first teaching experience

I went in to teach my first freshman English class when I was 21. Like, I'd just turned 21 3 months earlier, and I look young. Some Jehovah's witnesses came by the house the other day and they wanted to talk to my mom. How embarrassing.

I had one of the worst possible first semesters teaching that I know of from comparing my own experience to other GAs. I felt so humiliated at points that I didn't want to tell anyone, and I didn't know who to ask for advice. When I finally broke down and asked a few of my "advisors"/old professors for advice, they didn't believe me.

I've always been a smart kid in smart classes. This is by no means a bragging thing. I assume that most of us are the same egg-heady type people- otherwise we wouldn't be here! The key mistake that I made when teaching a freshman English class is that I assumed I would lead a class environment like those I'm used to sitting in as a student. 100% wrong.

That first semester, I taught from 4-4:50 Monday through Thursday. (Newbies will soon learn what a difference teaching at different times makes for student dynamics). When the sun started to go down, one student would make it so the light shined in my eyes when I was teaching. I had both male and female students stand up in the middle of class and yell at me. Paper airplanes/Paper balls---I've had those throw across the room (and sometimes at me) too.

I went home every day and I cried. I could 100% for sure handle my own graduate classes. Hell, I was producing some of my best poems EVER! But I dreaded going to teach that class every day. I'd watch TV for the two hours leading up to class (usually CSI: Miami and Crossing Jordan) until the last possible moment when I would walk the 10 minute walk over to campus and sit down in front of my sad/bored students. I couldn't think about teaching/lesson plans/anything because I knew every single day was going to be a different sort of disaster.

The discipline problems weren't the only issues. I was appalled by the literacy issues--the students who just got passed along because no one stopped to say "Johnny can't write a coherent sentence". I didn't know how to teach them. Then of course, there were the attendance issues--students frequently skipping. The only time I ever skipped a class, I got so nervous that I threw up and actually made myself sick. I couldn't (and still can't) relate to them. These issues both deserve their own blog entries, because it's awful.

One day in October, three girls (they move in packs) were talking and talking and talking during a discussion. I snapped. I freaked out. I finally gained my teacher voice "BE QUIET. GET OUT OF MY CLASSROOM NOW". The entire class stopped and stared at me. "GET OUT," I said. After class, a student came up to me and said "You should've done that a long time ago". I knew I'd done the right thing.

After that teaching got better. Spring 08, a student gave me a thank you note at the end of the semester. I even cried the last day of my class Fall 08, because I was going to miss seeing their SMILING (YES! THIS BATCH SMILED!) faces. I survived my first plagiarism experience without much drama. I worked with one student who suffered a leg injury via email for a whole semester so she could pass the course--one of my best students ever.

Every teacher is different. Every class is different. And it's tough sometimes, but I think having the opportunity to learn to teach with a graduate assistantship is such a wonderful privilege. We are all absolutely positively going to screw up, but this is how we learn to become great professors like the ones who helped us get here!


  1. Thank you for giving me permission to screw up! Exactly what I need. No one is born a teacher, it's something we have to learn while we teach. Good to remember! Thanks so much for this post!!

  2. I LOVE reading these posts about teaching, because I'm really nervous about it and I was so sure that everyone else was a natural! Thank you sooo much for sharing.

  3. Those little boogers! Mine never yelled at me or threw things, but there was a lot of eye rolling that I didn't appreciate.

  4. I can't believe people were throwing things at you in a college English class. I'd tell the buggers if they didn't want to make use of the class that they were paying to attend they could take a hike. There are plenty of people at college who want to get an education. The ones who are there just to kill time always get my goat and it's an angry goat with mighty hooves of justice.

    Sorry you had to go through that. Glad the experiences have been better since then.

  5. Yow. That sounded like a very traumatic experience. I'm very glad to hear that you made it out in one piece -- these teaching "confessionals" are certainly keeping me on my toes.

  6. Wow you experienced like that ah??
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