I was glad to teach at the college level because I thought I could never teach kids. Now I realize I basically did teach kids. So young, so naïve, so many dumb mistakes that made me think "What part of this is complicated? Oh wait, I've done worse." I must try to keep my patience and compassion with me as I grow older and more jaded and they stay the same age.
On my second day of teaching I felt like I needed to fake my own death so I could quit. Two semesters later, has it gotten better? Yeah. It's been all right. I don't know what else to say. Not amazing, not terrible, probably the best job I've ever had. I didn't discover a secret passion for this line of work that I never would have considered if God hadn't told me to, but I turned out to be better at it than one would expect. I had virtually no experience (though at least, unlike some of my colleagues, I had a bachelor's degree in the subject I would teach). Then they gave me a week of training and a frightening amount of autonomy, assured me that they knew it would be really hard, and set me loose. Of course I had a practicum the first semester and plenty of more experienced people to help out. One of them said at one point, "If a week of training doesn't feel like enough, that's because it's not. Ideally you would've had a full semester."
To most of the students, though, I was just another professor even though I wasn't a professor. My position framed me as an "adult" and an authority figure even though I'm less than a decade older than most of them. I think it made my nervousness and incompetence less obvious. Such blind faith they placed in me! At the same time, some of them were chummier with me because of the age gap. One in particular liked to talk to me about Star Wars as if I were just one of his buddies. I had no problem with that. I tried to relate to them, too, by bringing up my own school experience past and present. I warned them against my mistakes. I said I couldn't tell them not to procrastinate because I'd be a hypocrite, but be careful about it. While making them write research papers, I told them about my own research paper on Legos and gender for Folk Art and Material Culture. I know some of them with Republican parents rolled their eyes at me behind their deactivated cameras, but this is academia and they'd better get used to it. I felt really bad for them getting screwed out of their freshman year, so I tried to give them opportunities to talk to each other, and I told them someday they can tell their kids they lived through this.
Filling fifty minutes could be a challenge sometimes. I had sometimes just a sentence or two telling me what to teach, and I could teach it in five minutes and then what? I had to think of discussion questions and videos and activities and whatever to fill the time. Typically I went in with a paragraph or so of notes and tried to generate a lot of discussion and go along organically with whatever my students said or asked. It was interesting this semester to compare and contrast my first and second classes. Typically the second one went smoother because I'd already had a practice run. I learned this principle in large part from taking Scott Irwin's Institute of Religion course on marriage three times. I saw how he kind of followed a script but could still improvise and always feel spontaneous. All three times, he went off on a tangent telling stories about his grandfather until the class was roaring with laughter, and then he waited for them to calm down, got a confused look on his face, and said "Was there a point to all this?" That set everyone off again. You had to be there.
But I didn't want useless filler or busywork. Maybe now that I've gained in confidence I'll start introducing additional material altogether. One of my colleagues straight-up ditched the ethos pathos logos stuff, considering it a waste of time. I'm not brave enough to do that. I tried to emphasize skills and principles that will benefit them no matter what they do in the future. I don't think I've had a single English major in my classes yet. I tried to teach them to think, to overcome their own biases and blind spots and respectfully engage with other points of view. If I succeeded, I made them smarter than most Americans and they may save our civilization someday. Though I kept my personal views to myself for the most part, I frequently used American politics as an example of how not to do constructive discourse.
Next semester I will replace the Zoom broadcasts with in-person meetings but keep the online content, because I like it. Teaching in person frightens me but I think it will make discussions easier and smoother, and it will be nice to know what all of my students look like. I'll miss the chat and screen sharing features, though. Also, it will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays now, so ninety minutes instead of fifty, and still two classes back-to-back. For now I'm on vacation and trying not to think about the scary future too much even though it will be here before I know it. Granted, it might not even happen because I might get fired. A couple weeks ago I said something rude to a racist maggot on Facebook and he claimed to have screenshotted it and sent it to "your boss." I'm sure he wouldn't lie about something like that and I'm sure my boss just hasn't gotten around to doing anything about it yet. I'm not sure who my boss even is, though. There are like five people in various positions who could be considered my boss, but none of them tell me what to do very much. I'm not sure the best person to reach out to if you want to get me fired in a hurry. I'm impressed that the maggot figured it out so fast.
I also got this cool certificate earlier this week - it doesn't confer any rights or privileges on me, but it gives me a warm feeling.
Folk Art & Material Culture
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.