Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Which the Student Becomes the Teacher

Today was my first day as a college instructor. Now, I've taught two college courses on my own, but I did both as a graduate student. Today, I walked into my classrooms as an actual member of a university faculty. I've wanted to teach college for at least a decade. The goal was to get a Ph.D. and then teach. For multiple reasons, I am spending a few semesters teaching before moving on to a doctoral program. I don't want to teach nothing but survey classes forever, but for now, I'm thrilled to be where I am.

I'm not gonna lie. The last few weeks, I've been increasingly terrified of teaching nine hours-- THREE different courses-- two of which I've never taught. I wasn't too worried about US107 (US History II), because I've taught it once and TA'd for it twice. I've kinda got that one down. US105 (US History I) is one I've never taught, but it's history, and American history, at that. It'll take some work, but I knew I'd do okay. I was definitely nervous though-- it's amazing how much you realize you DON'T know when you start teaching something. I'd say I had a moderate amount of anxiety over that one. The class that really had me worried was UI100 (First Year Seminar). It's not history, and I was not at all sure of myself on that one. Not only that, but it is an ITV course, which means there's all sorts of techy "schtuff" I have to keep up with. I had no idea how I was going to pull off this course. I just kept reminding myself that I always feel that way about any significant academic projects ( 90 page thesis I wrote in *seven* weeks), and then I always end up doing surprisingly well in the end. It's a matter of just pushing on and moving forward, trusting that I'll end up on solid ground, and not walking off a cliff.

This morning I awakened at 5:30 (after having gone to bed after 1 in the morning, trying to finish all my prep), terrified that I'd crash and burn, and that I'd have to go find a secluded cave in a  third world country in which to live out the rest of my life. When I got to the Sikeston campus, I looked for my room assignment, and seriously, there has to be a better way of displaying those than writing them all on a series of white boards in no particular order, but this is how they were listed, and I triple-checked to make sure I was looking at the right room assignment. Then, when I got to the room, I triple-checked the room number. I spent the next 30 minutes terrified I'd "pull a Ted Mosby." For those of you who are not very familiar with How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby wound up getting halfway through a lecture on his first day as an instructor at Columbia before realizing he was in the wrong class. Thankfully, I managed to not make the same mistake (less legendary, for sure, but I'm good with that).

8:00 came, and I did the obligatory first day roll call, introductions, and syllabus. Then, I launched into my first lecture on industrialization. I really didn't think about it until the end of class, but when I looked at the clock when I reached the end of my lecture, and it had all taken exactly 74 of my allowed 75 minutes, I was pleasantly surprised. I walked out of class with my confidence renewed. I got in the car to drive to my next class in Cape, and thought, "Yes. This is what I want to do with my life." Industrialization is not my area of expertise, but I taught it, and I taught it well. It's amazing how encouraging it is to see how much better a class can be the second time around. When I gave this lecture a year and a half ago, it was a struggle to make it through 40 minutes of class, even WITH the standard first-day content. I added nothing to my lecture, and yet I was able to do more with that same content. And for the first time, I made it through an entire lecture with no notes. It was amazing.

After completing that class period, my anxiety regarding my next two classes dissipated. I was reminded that teaching is one thing I can do well. Were the next two classes as polished as the first? No. But neither were they even in the vicinity of "crash and burn." This is going to work.

I can't even begin to describe how excited I am about this school year. I get to teach, and not only that, I get to work on my own research projects without having to do them for a class.  I have at least one, possibly two articles I want to have published by spring. I hope to give a couple of presentations at history conferences again this year. I'm working as a historian outside of academia too. My public history training is actually being put to use (and I'm weeping, just a little, inside) with a project for a museum in Charleston, Missouri. While I'm currently not working on my final degree, I'm building my CV, establishing myself as a professional historian, and continuing my own contributions to the academic community. My undergrad advisor, Dr. Motl, told me years ago that I had all the tools I needed to be a professional historian and college instructor, but I couldn't really see it then. I am finally coming to see this on my own, and to have more confidence in my own abilities and potential.

Of course, this doesn't mean I don't think I need more training and more guidance. I don't think I've "arrived." I'm simply starting to see the forest through the trees. And the view is grand.

No comments:

Post a Comment