Dear First-Year College Student Who Emailed Me:

apple-bookI get it. You’re nervous. And you found my name and photo and said I looked friendly. I really kind of am, if you approach me right, and I am in a unique position to talk to you about your fears because I share them.

Though I’ve been an adjunct professor for 13 or so years (roughly the same amount of time you spent in school, prior to coming here, to the University of New Haven), this is my first semester at a full-time professor, and let me tell you, I’m nervous that (and feel free to check the ones that sound familiar):

  • I won’t do a good job
  • I won’t get my work done on time
  • I’ve bitten off more than I can chew

I’d add “I won’t be able to find my classes,” but three of the four classes I’m teaching are in the same room, and it’s literally down the hall from my office, so I think on that front, I’ll be OK.

You couldn’t tell it by looking, but my own college years seem like yesterday. I spent four years at two different schools being vaguely confused by everything going on around me. I made it to class (mostly). I kept up with the reading (mostly), and I was a middling student, mostly because I moved into each respective schools’ newspaper office and stayed there. For years, I’d wake up from one of those panic dreams that varied in detail but always included me mouthing the phrase, “I really have to go to my military sociology class,” which was an actual class I made a habit of missing.

I don’t remember why.

Last night, I had a panic dream that I was holding a young child who’d been very badly hurt and it was on me to take care of that child. I think that’s the result of the multiple orientations I’ve recently attended that have left me stewing over what to do with the phone numbers and emails of support staff, should a student start struggling. The star students are relatively easy, but am I equipped to pull along a student who’s really struggling? This is what wakes me up these days. I don’t come from an academic background. I come from a newsroom, where the equivalent of struggling students were expected to buck up, Buttercup, and get the story in on time. Deadlines wait for no divorce, illness, or death in the family.

(That last part is an exaggeration. I saw great kindnesses extended to people who’d lost loved ones — including myself. But you get the idea.)

So the semester begins, and last night I laid out three different outfits and settled on the most casual one. Did you? I have readied my lectures (mostly) and my syllabi (kind of) but I’m still learning the combination of my locker (Blackboard) and I, like you, am telling myself that things are going to be OK.

I tell my son, a hell of a good father and a good man on top of that, that it’s the parents who worry about what kind of  job they’re doing who make the best parents. They care enough to care, to be nervous, to question themselves.

If that holds true for teachers, I? Will be awesome. And you will be, too. See you in class.


Published by datingjesus

Just another one of God's children.

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  1. I was just thinking, “I wonder if Susan starts school tomorrow? Maybe I’ll check in and see, and wish her well. Those lucky students!”

    That is exactly what I was thinking and then I got online and found your post! Have a fabulous first week of school, distinguished one! You are an awesome teacher! As a former student, I can say this!

    1. I tried to reply to this last night but couldn’t: Thank you, Lois. I am both nervous and excited. Those two things are actually kind of cool.

  2. So I couldn’t think of any good advice for your first day…because…I’m not a teacher. I do know a few teachers, though, and folks who have taught classes…so I asked a few what their advice would be.

    Most of it I think you’ve probably already heard or figured out, but there were a few gems:

    “Dress conservatively…except for the shoes. Wear bold shoes.”

    “Never look happy. Look interested…amazed…curious…interested…even fearful…but never happy. That way, you’ll never appear disappointed.”

    “Don’t try to “teach” anything. Shepherd. Don’t teach. Learning is contagious, especially in groups. Watch for that first spark.”

    “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.”

    1. Actually? Those last two are awesome. I do wear non-sensible shoes, but I’m afraid I usually look happy. Thanks, my friend.

    1. Good, I think. I only taught one class today. Tomorrow, I’ll be in three — though I only teach one (the third is a team-teaching class and I only teach a few of those students on Thursdays). I think this is going to be really hard and really fun.

        1. Go ahead and envy me. I really feel like I fell into this position (I originally wandered down to Univ. of New Haven to talk about teaching one particular course, the team-teaching course) and then this happened. I’m really happy about it.

            1. As best as I can tell (and the class starts today, so let’s hope I’m right), first-year students are required to take a course on sustainability, ostensibly, but it’s really a course in researching, writing, getting to know the campus, other students, etc. Sneaky, right? Today, the 80 students will meet in a large lecture hall and the team leader (a woman I really like and who’s been incredibly helpful to me as I don’t-learn the school’s computer system) will lecture. Then, on Thursdays, the large group splits up into 4 smaller groups. I teach a smaller group and we’re going to be looking at mass communication and sustainability, but mostly we’re going to look at getting a message out via social media. We’ll look at interpersonal communication to start with (Fun! I can tell them how I tanked my first marriage by being so very good at that!) (Not really.) (It wasn’t all my fault.) (OK. Maybe it was.) and then move on to the bigger picture. And then on Tuesday, they go back to the big lecture hall, etc.

                1. It’s pretty interesting and — selfishly, for me — it gives me a chance to see other teaching styles, and learn from them. I don’t know the school library’s resource, either. Maybe they should have all new teachers do this.

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