One Semester Down
I’ve recently finished teaching my very first semester of college English. As always seems to be the case, four months have flown by. Cuddled up in my office on this unseasonably cold day, I thought I would share some of my reflections from my inaugural semester.
It was a rocky start. In the first week, it felt like everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. On the first day of classes, I was asked by the department if I wanted another class because a teacher had left without any notice. I accepted. I also needed to alter my syllabus drastically and remember waking up at 4 in the morning to retype and print new copies. If that wasn’t enough, my trusty old laptop completely died 5 minutes before my first class started. Needless to say, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into.
Luckily, my schedule quickly evened out after that first week. I eased into a routine of making Powerpoints, grading quizzes, and answering emails. Because my schedule was so flexible, I often found myself wondering if I should be doing more or less. Am I grading too harshly or too easily? Am I assigned too much work or not enough? Most of these questions don’t get explicitly answered and I learned to rely on my instincts. I learned that whatever I thought was best, probably was what was best.
Teaching was not without its frustrations. It sometimes felt like an uphill battle trying to get students to get off their phones, contribute in class, and turn in their work on time. However, I think my compassion helped me through those difficulties. I was pleased when my students felt comfortable enough to communicate with me about what was happening in their lives and how I could work with them to meet the class requirements.
Because I follow lots of educators on Twitter, I remember stumbling upon a particularly apt sentiment about choosing between being enforcing and not enforcing requirements. Students often come to you with many excuses about late assignments. I remember this Twitter user (sorry, I don’t remember who) saying that they choose to believe students, and if a student has taken advantage of their kindness, they would much rather have that than have another student in need be treated unfairly.
All in all, I think I’ve done a reasonably good job. I worked really hard to grade as fairly as possible. I came up with different activities that engaged students beyond just listening to a lecture. I felt that I got to know my students through their comments in class and by reading their journals. Some very kind students approached me after our final class and thanked me and complimented my teaching. I wasn’t prepared for how emotional that would make me feel. I bumped into a senior colleague shortly after who said something along the lines of “That’s the gratifying part, when you think that your work goes unnoticed but then someone notices.”
Of course, I think there are many things I can improve on. I can keep developing new and creative ways to learn the concepts, and although I feel like I’m constantly fighting with technology, hopefully that will include things like videos and other mediums. I believe that I can do more to connect with students that are falling behind. I can add in more challenges and new ideas for my students to learn about.
It appears that I will be teaching at WSU again this fall and I am already excited to implement the feedback I’ve received. Before I can end this post, I have to thank my good friend Victoria Stewart for being my guiding light through this entire semester. She has graciously answered all of my questions, accompanied me on many coffee runs, and willingly listened to all my concerns and frustrations. Victoria, I cannot thank you enough. The sixth floor won’t be the same without you.
To my students, if you’re reading this, good luck! Keep an eye out for those passive verbs.