Monday, my first day of teaching, I showed up in my reserved classroom and set up Zoom forty-five minutes early just to be safe. As my students trickled in I was gratified to know that the link worked. However, I didn't think to test the audio. I thought I could just talk at the computer like I talked at my laptop all week during Orientation, because nobody told me I had to talk into this little radio thing. So the first seven minutes of class were wasted on me trying to figure that out as my students in the chat helpfully explained that there's a little microphone icon in the corner, then giving up and calling IT. The class went well other than that and I learned that disasters are okay. I wasn't very nervous going into it anyway, since all we had to do was get to know each other and discuss the syllabus, but that's actually a bad thing because Beth said that even after all her time as a teacher, if she didn't feel like throwing up before her first class of the semester, she would know something was wrong. So something was wrong.
Throughout the week, I corresponded via email or Canvas with some students who had various questions or concerns. The respect they showed me was so heartwarming. A couple called me "Professor Nicholson", which isn't technically accurate but feels really good so I hope they don't stop. I'm so used to feeling marginalized and invisible - for example, my email to the Logan City Police Department a few weeks ago went completely ignored because the recipients didn't and don't see me as an actual person who deserves to be acknowledged in any way - and I'm not the type to demand respect, and unlike a police officer, I'm not authorized to shoot people for refusing to kiss my butt, so the voluntarily outpouring of good will from these students who place a scary amount of faith in my qualifications to teach them composition is such a breath of proverbial fresh air. I will do my best to be worthy of it.
Friday, my second day of teaching, things once again got off to a rocky start when I failed to elicit the desired discussion from my students. Both my teaching style and USU English courses in general are very dependent on discussion. I don't have the capacity to just get up there and lecture for fifty minutes even if I wanted to. Asking a question and just having twenty muted microphones stare back at me was a very unnerving experience, and it repeated a few times. So I whizzed through the main class "discussion" and got right to the breakout groups. I had scientifically calculated the groups to ensure that none of them were majority male, but some of my students ruined that by being absent, so I had to make them from scratch and I think next time I'll just randomize them. I put the discussion questions for the groups in the chat. This worked fine every time Beth did it during Orientation, but as I rotated between the groups I discovered that none of them had received the message, so that was annoying.
Nonetheless, the groups had their desired effect of getting people to relax and open up more. Maybe too much. In one, I arrived just in time to hear a student opine, "I feel like he was just like 'Get into groups' because he doesn't have an actual lesson plan." I don't know at what point she noticed me, since her camera was off, but another student noticed immediately and laughed in that shocked "Oh my gosh" kind of way and had to turn her camera off. Basically it was something out of a movie. I pretended nothing had happened and I hadn't just been stabbed in the heart. I realized after a while that I shouldn't take it personally because the use of breakout groups was actually something recommended and modeled over and over in Orientation and the practicum, and it worked, so this student just didn't know what she was talking about. After we returned to the main group, the discussion went a bit more smoothly than before. I may have grilled one student a little too much about her career ambitions because I was just so enthusiastic about her actually speaking.
I wouldn't count that class among even the top fifty worst experiences of my life, but when I ate lunch afterward I got the PTSD shivers that have only happened to me once before. And though it was far too late to quit, I considered quitting anyway. I'd have to fake my own death or something but I considered it. I told Beth and she was very sympathetic and said she had a similar experience her first semester with a student who assumed she didn't know what she was doing when she put them into groups, so that comforted me. And it was still better than teaching elementary or middle school students.
On a more lighthearted note, here's an excerpt from the Zoom chat in our practicum when Beth had some technical difficulties.
Me: Is Beth frozen for everyone or just me?
Hannah: She’s frozen for me
Kelsie: She froze.
Steven: She's froze.
Greyson: me too
Madeline: Me too
Elle: Yup Beth is frozen for me too.
Hannah: NOOO Beth come back!
[Literally ten minutes later]
Hannah: Uh Oh.
Alex: bye beth
Greyson: She’s frozen for everybody right
Steven: Frozen II
Kylie: lol she is for me
Me: I guess we should just let it go
Hannah: NOOOO Christopher beat me to the joke
Elle: You guys are the best lol
Alex: can she see the chat when she comes back?
Me: And apparently I'm the host now for some reason?
Mia: I am so impressed by the amount of dad jokes in this chat.
Hannah: Now you’re in charge
Hannah: Teach us something
Elle: Christopher go! Teach!
Me: The area of a circle is pi r squared
Me: Oops, wrong class
Alex: get outta here
Hannah: Now I have useless math equation songs running through my head from high school
Kelsie: I love that we’re all interacting in the chat and no one has unmuted themselves.
Kylie: classic introvert English people.
Alex: speaking out loud is for chumps.
Me: If we speak out loud too much we might freeze
Madeline: Does that mean I'm next?
Alex: I hope not.
Alex: we should have told Beth to join on her phone if she can't connect to her computer
Me: For tonight's homework, read all of Shakespeare's plays
Alex: oh she's back
Hannah: Yuck, don’t make Christopher the host again… ;)
After spending twenty-nine hours in one week with these people during orientation, amounting to more social interaction than I had all year up to that point, I feel like we're all best friends forever. Except Steven doesn't seem to like me anymore. He broadcasts from his little office down the hall from mine, and sometimes during breaks or after class we emerge at the same time, and one time during Orientation he said "How has your day been?" and we chatted as we walked around the Quad for ten minutes, but since then he just stares at me when I nod or say hi. I guess I said something wrong. I'm good at that.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, 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.