Reflections on a First Semester of Teaching

pedagogy-2To the astonishment of many, I finished my first semester as a graduate instructor, and I now have a break from graduately instructing people. I have ambitious writing goals for the break (two new stories, four revisions, eight submissions), and I intend to stick to those goals (not just because my nonfiction instructor challenged me to email her if I succeeded), and now that I’ve submitted final grades, I have time to think about my first time being fully responsible teaching forty-six people to write arguments.

I still mostly don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m learning and have learned plenty, and I now know what not to do (mostly). Even with a syllabus, plans change, and even when I realize a lesson plan is about to fail (much like hope or democracy) ten minutes into class, I still have to go through with it. Teaching is a kind of theater, and I can hide my uncertainties about a lesson plan well enough.

I should be honest with my students, but not too honest. Teaching is still theater, but actors bring pieces of themselves on stage when they perform, even in subtle ways. I don’t want to be a mysterious professorfiguredude, because I’m not. I’m a graduate instructor trying to figure out the mechanics of a syllabus and how to factor in participation. I should be honest with my students if I make a mistake, and I expect the same from my students (and despite this semester’s rough patches, I still have high expectations).

A good cohort makes teaching easier, and not just because it’s lovely to have a group of friends with whom I can praise and complain about students, plan lessons, work on assignments, and stay motivated. It also helps to have people who need to stress-drink as much as I do.

A bad lesson plan does not make a bad semester, and I often have a hard time remembering that. Mistakes might feel worse and worse as the semester goes on, but it helps to remember that over Winter Break, students will forget most of them, and in a few years I probably will too.

Hypocrisy is inevitable, and that’s also okay. I’m a quiet student, and when confronted with a class of people who, like me, are very quiet, I’m forced to be speak more, because avant-garde pedagogy in which students and teachers sit in a room silently meditating on a reading is very uncomfortable. It’s hard to fill fifty minutes three times a week with discussions and lectures, and it makes me want to apologize to all my professors for having been such an aggressively quiet student.

A new semester means a new syllabus, which means countless more ways to make mistakes and learn, but now I know what to expect.

-jk

5 thoughts on “Reflections on a First Semester of Teaching

  1. K. D. Dowdall

    Thank you for following my blog, Pen and Paper, and I immediately related to your experience as an instructor of graduate students. Graduate students already “know” everything and it is far more difficult to impress them with interesting material since they have probably heard it all already. Undergraduates are eager, for the most part, to absorb everything you teach them. The longer I taught graduates the better I approached the subject matter I was teaching – clinical research – not the most stimulating material for many non-research students, but were required to take the course anyway. Eventually, I brought with me to class jokes about research and funny things that happened to me during cohort studies, then the entire atmosphere changed in the university classroom and there was laughter with more actual learning! It was still a struggle at times, but laughter does help. K.D. 🙂

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    1. keeneshort Post author

      Thank you kindly for the comment and for following back! I appreciate the value of jokes in the classroom. I tried using humor (most of it self-deprecating) to make the topic (writing and rhetoric) a bit more interesting, and to make myself more comfortable as an instructor. Laughter does indeed help!

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  2. The Twentysomething Social Recluse

    This is a great list! My friend is currently training as a teacher and I’ve bookmarked this to show him as I think he will agree – and I think he will really appreciate the positive sentiment. Teaching is tough but rewarding!

    Liked by 1 person

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