Saturday, September 1, 2007

Places I didn't mean to be

"You were meant to be a teacher," a friend told me the other day. It's not the first time someone's told me that, and given the number of close acquaintances who've had to sit through one of my classroom recap narratives, I know where the impression comes from. And yet...

I've never felt a calling to any one profession. Several years ago, pre-grad school, I sneered at everyone who suggested that I could use my degree in English to teach. I'd never do that, I thought. I didn't know what I was "meant" for, but teaching certainly wasn't it. I was too free-spirited to work within the confines of established curriculum, and really, formal education is an exercise in following directions, and I'm so not a public speaker, and I don't have the patience to deal with kids, and besides, my degree was a B.A., not a B.S.E., so you see, it really wasn't feasible. I had a litany of reasons why I wouldn't be caught dead in front of a classroom.

With graduation looming ahead and few (desirable) job prospects, I decided to ward off the existential crisis in the stereotypical way--I ran back for more school. In my second year, I landed a position as a teaching assistant. As is the case with many public universities, I had full responsibility for my classes. I loved it. I hated it. It charged me. It drained me.

Soon, another graduation loomed ahead. Mid-summer, I decided I needed to step back from academia in order to assess my goals and gain some new perspective before committing to it ("committing" fits). This adjunct position literally fell in my lap, though--I took it, against a backdrop of reservations.

I have a post sitting in my draft folder, where I was trying to chronicle some of my reservations about this gig. I may return to it, or I may just sit down with my personal journal and write it out--but some of them are lifting. And that has to do with the experience of being in the classroom.

However overwhelming the back work is, from lesson plans to grading, the classroom experience is unique. I do enjoy how it's possible to teach the exact same lesson plan to two different classes and have completely different experiences, whether it's due to different classroom dynamics or perhaps slightly different discussion tangents. It adds an element of uncertainty, to be sure, but it also keeps me on my toes. It's a challenge to figure out how to hold their attention and how to rescue a dud class. I get a bit frustrated with my morning class when they're zombies, but frankly, their teacher's not a morning person, either. However, one off-the-cuff student comment or the excitement of succeeding with a new approach is enough to give me a charge for the rest of the day, as surely as the cup of coffee in my hand.

And then there's always the dream class--I think I'm in love with my first one-night-a-week evening class. It's pretty small, and two weeks in, they've got wonderful rapport with each other and with me, and they're on top of their reading, and they have stories to tell and interests that will probably teach me about new topics this semester. They have doubts about this scary "writing" thing, but I also love them for that, too. They're mostly returning students who have outside jobs, too, so it's a new dynamic for me, but having started out at the same community college I now teach at, I understand some of what they're facing.

As I drove home the other night, wired by the experience, I couldn't help but think, "So this is why I teach." I still can't say one way or another if it's what I'm destined to do, but here and now, it works for me.

I'm willfully ignoring the fact that grading looms ahead.

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