10 Lessons I Learned from Teaching

English: Sahab Library

English: Sahab Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s five days until Christmas, and while most people are thinking of presents and family, I’m rejoicing that my finals grades are in!

This semester was both the hardest and most rewarding for me. I taught five classes at two different colleges. It was a juggling act, and the past four months have felt like a crash course in time management and interpersonal relations. Now that I can look back in retrospect, it was totally worth it (in fact, I’m teaching five courses again next semester).

As with all experiences, I’ve learned a lot this semester, which marks my year and a half of teaching.  Here are the top points:

1. Be specific – Students forget things. Students can be dense. And you have to remember that this is, most likely, not a student’s only class.  There’s a lot to keep track of for both you and your lovely horde of 18 year olds, so make it easier on yourself and be specific. Let them know exactly what’s expected. If they break the rules, most will be good at admitting it. And be prepared to repeat yourself…a lot.

2. Know your students and yourself – One of my main goals at the beginning of the semester is to get every one of my student’s names down.  Knowing them makes students feel like you care (and makes it easier to call them out when they’re being silly 😉 ). As the semester goes on, you also get to know your students, their limits, and your limits. You’ll know which students try to get away with murder and which are just having a bad week. And you know when you just can’t accept another late paper because if you have to grade one more grammar-mistake-riddled assignment, you might just run screaming from the building.

3. It’s not you, it’s…no, it’s you – Some students (no matter how hard you try) just won’t give a shit.  Don’t take it personally. Pour your heart and resources into those who do care and who will listen to you.

4. Sometimes, you just have to commiserate – This might sound callous, but after a hard day of not one student listening/understanding you or a lesson plan flopping or a hard night of grading, you just need to sit in the teacher’s lounge and blow off some steam with colleagues. Sometimes, those you teach with turn out to be the best therapists and problem solvers.

5. Most likely, you study harder than quite a few of your students – I know I do. And it gets frustrating. “You mean I spent three hours prepping for this lesson with an additional three hours to catch up on grading, and you didn’t even take fifteen minutes to read the three-page essay for today?” Yeah, it happens. But you keep on trying your best. (See point 3).

English: The main reading romm of Graz Univers...

6. No one told me there’d be a paper party – I knew there’d be lesson planning and grading, but paperwork? I find myself constantly putting reams of forms in the “interoffice mail” bin. Am I exaggerating? Perhaps. Will my description feel spot on if you are a teacher? Yes.

7. No one gets into teaching for the grading – I love being in front of the classroom. I love hearing what my students have to say. I even (usually) love reading what they have to say. But evaluating it all? Not so much. Though I do have to say that www.engrade.com makes my life infinitely easier by calculating all my grades. It’s a wonderful free resource (Hint for all my fellow teachers!). Hey, I’m an English professor. You do the math 😉

8. Teaching is like a zombie (it wants your brains) – Hours of lesson planning and grading can be all consuming. You will emerge from a long night of this and only be able to communicate using unintelligible grunts. Which brings me to number 9…

9. Be kind to yourself – Not all classes will be winners (i’m speaking of lesson plans here, not students). Some days, it will feel like all the work you are putting in is futile. Don’t beat yourself up, and, most importantly, take “you” time (because you will get burnt out). Take a weeknight or a weekend for yourself. Put the folder of papers and stacks of books away, get a bowl of ice cream, and marathon your favorite show (if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, go outside, see the sun, and, perhaps, even have a drink or two). Students can wait another few days to get a paper back. They really won’t mind, and they’ll appreciate having a well-rested, good-humored professor to show for it.

10. You get around to some students, even if it takes a while – I know I’ve griped quite a bit about students not listening or turning in assignments late. Every job has it’s rough moments. I got into teaching because I love it. I love diving into literature texts and discussing the serial comma. I love having discussions and answering students’ questions.

I love it even more when students answer each other’s questions, showing me that they “get” it. I love it even more when a student who only wrote in sentence fragments at the beginning of the semester can now making a cohesive argument. I love it even more when I get an e-mail from a student telling me that I made English bearable and even a little fun. That is why I do what I do—for even, just a moment, to show them the power of the written word. It sounds like some idealistic notion out of a work of fiction, but it does happen…and, for me, it makes the journey worth it.

If you teach, what wisdom do you have to share?  If you are (or have been) a student, what do you wish teachers knew?

Christmas Bean Update

Remember my Christmas bean that was just sprouting a mere three days ago?  Well, now that sprout looks like this:

I think my plant is on steroids….or maybe it adolescence way sooner than I would like.  My baby plant is growing up *sniffle*

Merry Christmas, Bean!

About a week ago, a friend gave me an “I Love You Bean.”  I had no idea such a thing existed, but hey, I’m not complaining (it actually goes with an inside joke we have….long story).  Anyhoo, I’m not exactly a gardener extraordinaire, so I was nervous that I’d kill the gift.

The day after I got the present, I unwrapped the disc of dirt and the two lima beans and followed the instructions.  It was simple enough:

1) mix the dirt in water (actually, the “mixing” consisted of me stabbing the disc of dirt, which refused to disintegrate, and then leaving it for about 30 seconds while I tended to something else.  When I went back into the kitchen, I found a giant pillar of dirt in a bowl….it absorbs fast!).

2) Put the dirt pillar back into the original container and stick the beans in.

3) Put on the “sprouting top” and place the container on a windowsill (I had never seen one of these before — the sprouting top, not the windowsill.  Perhaps this lack of sprouting top is why all my other plants died….)

And there you have it!  The instructions said the beans should sprout in 5-10 days.

I checked every day for signs of life.  Nothing.  When I left to go spend Christmas with my family, there wasn’t a whole lot of activity going on with my plant.  But when I got back today, I checked the windowsill and this is what I found:

This sight was a very cool surprise!  I was also amused when I saw that the bud says “I love you” on the side.  But I do have one question for all the gardeners out there: is the plant supposed to curve?  I bet it was that pesky sprouting top…