Thursday, March 10, 2011


The first day I ever taught a college course, I put a piece of strong mint gum in my mouth just as I was walking into the classroom. I didn't want to "breath 'em all to death" the first time I met them, right? Well... the gum was too strong, I was nervous, I swallowed funny, and I ended up choking and coughing all the way through that first class. Not exactly an auspicious start.

The first day of the first class I taught in my doctoral program (that first class I mentioned above was in my master's program), I leaned against the edge of the table at the front of the room to introduce myself. The thing was, the table top was not attached to the table legs and I very nearly fell to the floor in front of that first group of students at ISU. Not a great start either.

The truth is, I've always felt a certain amount of fear about going into the classroom--- particularly the first day. No... it's not fear exactly... It's more like nerves... like stage fright. Going in to the classroom has, from the very beginning, given me a big case of butterflies in the stomach. Every class, every time.

Well... not every time... anymore.

Not long after I came to CSI I started saying something blithe and sophisticated like "the day those butterflies go away is the day I stop teaching." You see, I was of the opinion that the butterflies meant that I still respected the responsibility and the weight of teaching. I was taking it seriously if my body was responding with a certain amount of trepidation. If I felt fear or stage fright or whatever, it meant that the process was still "honest" and "real."

 Something has changed recently. The butterflies are mostly gone.

Last semester, fall semester 2010, was a pretty good semester. I had lively, interactive, respectful students who actively engaged in the process of getting their own educations. The material I was teaching was mature, well-thought-out, and students responded well to it. Lectures, class discussions, small group activities, etc. were obviously worth the students' time. They stepped up and did their part very, very well. Note every student in every class every day, of course, but with a high degree of regularity and a high level of engagement.

I still felt the butterflies last semester. This semester is ... different; and I'm worried that the thing that's different is me.

In Act 2 Scene 2 of Hamlet, Hamlet is trying to explain to his "friends" Rosencranz and Guildenstern what he's been going through since his father death. He says, "I have of late,—but wherefore I know not,—lost all my mirth." I wouldn't exactly say I've lost all my mirth, but I certainly not "feeling it" like I have in the past. I feel like I've lost something, and "wherefore I know not."

Part of the deal, I'm sure, is that spring semester students are a different breed of cat that fall semester students. In the fall, particularly here at a CC, fall students are afraid of their own shadows. They're more malleable and "teachable." By the time they get to the spring semester, however, they're world-wise and savvy. They don't need classes or professors anymore. They know what's what. It's always harder to get a class to "gel" in the spring than it is in the fall. None of my usual tricks are working this term, though.

But, blah, blah, blah. Here I blather on while I need to be finishing my prep for class.

More on this another day, perhaps.

(BTW, don't send the intervention teams yet. I'm not quite ready to slit my wrists or anything. Just musing, I guess.)


Patricia Murphy, a resident of said...

I read your post with nodding in agreement. I too used to think that the day I lost my first day jitters would be the day I gave up teaching. But now what I hate about first days is how cared they are and that THEY DON'T LAUGH AT MY JOKES. Can you believe that? I've decided that what I need to do the first day of classes is to show video of former students laughing at my jokes; you know, put 'em on youtube or something. I just keep telling them they're gonna have fun, but they don't believe me. Maybe because it's usually business writing.
I'm glad you posted, Hamlet. It's good to read your words.

Clark Draney said...

So... what's the next phase? How do I rescue myself and my teaching from sliding into complacency and stodginess?