Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My irrational fears: Teaching Edition

Back in the earliest years of this new Millenium—those of you who can remember back that far know what a magical time it was ... a time when Friends was a "must-see" and pomade was a "must-have" ... a time when there was no such thing as "subtle highlights" and when Angelina Jolie was still totally wacky—way back in the post-Hotmail/pre-Facebook Fall of 2001 when I walked into my first class of my first semester of my first year of college, I never would have dreamed that my fresh-faced writing professor might be embarking on some terrifying firsts of her own. Now that I know how universities work, I know that my young, soft-spoken, surprisingly optimistic, slightly liberal freshman writing teacher (Hon P 200, anyone?) was most likely a student herself. An older, married, pregnant student of the graduate variety, but a student nonetheless. And she was probably—no wait...she was definitely—way more nervous, self-conscious, and pants-crappingly terrified than I was.

I haven't thought of this woman or the things she taught me for ten years. I can't, for the life of me, remember her name. But I remember what she looked and sounded like. I remember that we couldn't really tell if she was pregnant until around Thanksgiving, and before that it was an awkward is she or isn't she guessing-type game. I remember that she wanted us to write about our feelings and our favorite songs and Tuesdays with Morrie. I remember thinking I knew more about King Lear than she did (I didn't) and that she cried too much (she did). What I don't remember, though, is anything I learned. Not one thing. You see, there was a douchey, sideburned dreamboat who sat next to me in that class (you'll recall that douchey guys were the style in those days). I was distracted. To him, I was invisible (as was my style in those days). His name and the facts that he liked surfing and Jack Johnson are all I can remember about my writing class that semester. My seventeen-year-old self was an idiot.

The universe is a jerk and I'll tell you why. Now I'm going to be a freshman writing teacher and I have no idea what I'm doing. None. If I had been assigned the task of shuttling a pack of wild preschoolers across a tightrope, I couldn't be any more horrified. Because:

What if they can see right through me?
I've heard eighteen year olds can smell fear and insecurity. They'll catch one whiff of me and they will run with the knowledge that I'm teetering on the edge confidence. One little vocal quiver on my part will be all they need to start launching spitballs at my face.

What if they scrutinize me the way I scrutinized my teachers?
They'll notice everything. My haircut, my clothes, my shoes and how often I wear them. They'll pay more attention to the stains on my shirts than the due dates in the syllabus. They'll catch me with my fly down or my finger in my nose and then that will be it. Tenuous grasp of authority—gone. Forever.

What if they don't learn anything?
What if I teach and teach and they don't learn. In ten years, will they remember their crush on Sideburns McDarlingface better than the readings? During their peer reviews, will they ignore their theses and focus instead on my fluctuating weight?

At times like these, I wish I could be as invisible as I was when I was 17.

9 comments:

elliespen said...

De-lurking here to say that the teacher's name was Sarah D'Evignee. I remember because I thought it was odd that my English(ish) teacher's name was French and my French teacher's name was the very American-sounding "Funk."

I had forgotten Sideburns McDarlingface (probably because I was paying more attention to Nice But Oblivious Cuteboy, to whom I was also invisible; sideburns never really did much for me). What I mostly remember about that class, though, was how she managed not to convey to us all the fact that the re-write of the first assignment was mandatory, and most of us, thinking it was optional, decided not to do it. And then she cried. (Yeah, she cried too much.)

But I also remember, now that I think about it, some of the assignments (I wrote my research paper on adolescent girls and "Reviving Ophelia"), that the essay I had to write on Lear actually made me see a glimmer of worth in that play for the first time since 10th grade English had pretty much ruined it for me, and that she handed out copies of St. Francis of Assisi's "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace" for us to hang on our walls and read every day (although the class-related purpose of this exercise eludes me). And in the end, she was the first person to actually get me to see the point to and importance of rewrites. So something did sink in after all.

Best of luck. I'm sure you'll do great, even if some of the kids are, like me, too snarky to notice it at the time.

Gretta said...

@elliespen:
That's exACTly what her name was! Yes! Good on you for remembering. And remembering what else we did in that class. I do not remember Oblivious Cuteness. See? Too distracted by doucheyness.

You remember what you wrote your research paper on? Are you extra amazing? Or should I be worried about this memory loss problem?

boysrus said...

Gretta, you are a great teacher and you are going to do a great job teaching a bunch of people who hardly care to be there. Don't be so hard on yourself!

(at least you're teaching in a language you actually speak, although, having done the opposite I'm no longer afraid to teach anything)

Megan Mayer said...

I am soooo stoked to say that when I was reading this, I thought wow her teacher really reminds me of my english teacher, who at the time I was taking her class was pregnant too!!! And cried a ridiculous amount and then I read the comment saying her name was Sarah D'Evegnee and I about went bonkers because she was my teacher too!!!! Such a small world but I feel oddly a tad bit smarter because I shared the same english teacher as the english guru Gretta had! I think she had quit teaching now though, because she said my semester would probably be her last considering that she had like 3 kids and one on the way or something.

But go Gretta for teaching! I am sure you will be amazing, and if it is a vote of confidence, just be glad you aren't at a church school where kids also judge how mormon-y or non you are in class! One less thing for them to talk about!

Jen said...

Just ask yourself, "What would Don Antonio do?" and you'll be FINE. Because making your students take turns welcoming everyone to class and sharing a chiste that nobody will understand is a surefire way to get their attention and win their hearts forever.

Gretta said...

Thanks for all the votes of confidence, friends. I just finished my first class not more than two hours ago. The sky didn't fall...entirely.

@Jen Don Antonio! *girlish sigh* Oh how I loved Don Antonio. He is my spirit animal. If I'd had him for all my other spanish classes, I might be able to speak spanish.

Juan said...

How do you intend to handle the eventual younger sideburn McDarling face after class hours “I have a a shinny apple for you Mrs. hot teacher and maybe something else” moment?

Alex said...

You're going to be awesome! Those kids are lucky to have you. Makes me want to take Freshman English again!

Also, we are moving to Orange County and I hope that means I get to see your beautiful face more often!

Rachael said...

I am five thousand years late on this, but I can never sleep the night before the new semester starts, and I want to throw up all the way through the first class. (And then I just word vomit.) And I've been teaching, what, since 2004? Even teaching online doesn't help...I lie awake worrying that they will hate online me. Or that they will think I am uglier than I really am, or that they will envision me as an unshowered 60-year-old woman typing in her pajamas and that hurts my vanity, friends. Because I am an unshowered 28-year-old typing in my pajamas, you know?