I remember the first day of school.
On a hot August afternoon in 2009, I packed up my bag with pens, folders, a notebook, and some papers, then headed off to a medium-sized classroom in a large building of a Midwestern University. When I stepped into that classroom, 26 pairs of eyes turned and stared at me, waiting, expectant. For a moment, I wondered why they were all staring at me. I was just like them – a person walking into a college classroom.
Until it came crashing back to me: I was their teacher.
I was now a college professor. It was my job to teach them about public speaking basics. They were all expecting me to guide them through 16 weeks of this course, introduce them to the fundamentals, and give them a final grade. I didn’t sit at one of those tiny desks amongst them; instead, I had to go to the front of the room and stand.
When I stood at the front of that class on that hot August afternoon with only two semesters of Teaching Assisting to my name, I waited for someone to say, “Wait, you’re our professor? You’re joking, right?” But no. Instead, they waited quietly as I passed out the syllabus and pulled up the course website on the overhead projector. When I called roll, my voice shook. When I held the syllabus, my hands shook so bad the papers rattled (solution: rest the syllabus on the desk in front of me and clasp my sweat, shaky hands behind my back). I didn’t smile. My stomach hurt. I dropped a piece of chalk on the floor and the room was painfully silent as I bent over to retrieve it.
And then, mercifully, it was over. Students filed out with syllabi and the assignment for the next class meeting. I wondered if my bumbling act would cause half of the students to drop, but surprisingly they were all back two days later, 26 of them, ready to discuss the assigned readings.
It was almost four years ago when I first started running my own classroom on the collegiate level and I’m happy to say that each semester it gets easier. My mouth is no longer dry, my hands no longer shake, and I don’t drop chalk. My stomach still gets a little queasy the first week of the semester as I meet new faces and stumble over the pronunciation of names, but I usually breeze into the classroom cracking bad jokes (something I’m good at), which gets the students laughing (or groaning or rolling their eyes), but it breaks that tension and erases awkward moments. Over the years, I’ve realized what I excel at when it comes to teaching: bad jokes notwithstanding, I’m good at making students feel comfortable in the classroom, explaining how to properly write/structure a speech, and sparking discussion. I’ve become better at cutting down on lectures, and can now seem to find a video to illustrate various communication concepts (students love short clips from YouTube like a two-year-old loves ice cream). I can name my strengths, I can tell my supervisor what I want to improve upon each semester, and can easily point out my faults.
I equate my first day of teaching on the collegiate level to how I feel now, by posting my original writing. While this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve had people read my writing, most of that type of writing has been academic, scholarly, cut-and-dry type of reporting. The type of writing that I’m putting on display now is me, who I am, my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences. Right now, I’m standing at the threshold, looking in at everyone, feeling a little awkward, a little shaky, wondering if I’m good enough. However, I hope that over the next week, month, year I can start looking at where I excel, what I can improve, and what I just don’t do well. While I always thought the ultimate goal of writing is to be published, I’ve realized that just taking this step of putting my writing out there, seeing what others (especially those who are more seasoned at this than I) think about it, and share ideas is so much more rewarding and beneficial. Just as how students learn from me and how I learn from students, I hope to do the same here.
Now, to take that first step through the door and walk to the front of the classroom. . . .