The first bell rings, I grab my computer bag as if a life preserver, and wade through the human current of students to get to my second floor classroom. This feels like an enormous accomplishment, I mentally note my underarms are wet, and my mouth is dry. First day jitters. This too shall pass.
Teaching is a unique occupation, aside from the stereotypes circling the cosmos (believe me my children have made me aware of every single one), we are sui generis breed. Teaching seems to require the sort of skills one would need to pilot a bus full of live chickens backwards, with no brakes, down a rocky road through the Andes while providing colorful and informative commentary on the scenery, notes Franklin Habit. I love that. It’s so true.
The first day of class is important. It sets the pace for the rest of the semester. If the tide of student opinion slides slightly left or right you sink. There is no recovery. I’m assaulted by visions of the Titanic, as we veer off course, hit an iceberg, and slowly disappear. This train of thought is not helping.
My first task it to cast the agenda. This seems simple enough but the summer has planted itself between me and my base of knowledge. A sort of muscle memory springs up at the last minute and I go live. Glancing around the room I gage the general attitude, one hostile in the back, three checked out by the back window, one loner off to the side, but the majority look non-threatening. I can work with this.
I move to the back of the room, near hostile, and introduce myself to the class with as much charisma as possible. (Remember no smiling until December) I give a brief overview of the course but trying to make a comparative study of World Religions sound interesting to a room full of hormonal teenagers is challenging under the best circumstances. I keep telling myself all things are possible with God and a lot of coffee. I set high expectations, achievable workloads, and they seem to enjoy the teacher humor I slip in to keep it real. Or they fake it well.
This year we’re utilizing Google Classroom as a helm instead of moodle which requires a complete retooling of my operating system. I may have mentioned I’m not big on change? I spent eight hours yesterday updating my materials and loading them into the “new” system. I had nightmares about these gigantic G’s swallowing me alive, I was banished to a floating graveyard of outdated materials, and lesson plans. Do normal people have dreams like this? For some reason I’m reminded of Mark Gerzon who says, face your own complexity, but doesn’t explain what this means.
The door suddenly bursts open, a student stumbles into the room, late, flustered, and red faced. She has a crumpled agenda in her hand, her backpack is unzipped, which she unfortunately plops on the side table. A number two pencil, cell phone, and binder crash to the floor. I smile (what can you do), this is an upper division class, and clearly this is a freshman. She looks around after retrieving her phone from under my desk and realizes she is in the wrong room. A horrified expression seizes her entire face. I grab the nicest student I can find and tell her to escort this student immediately to the right room, I grab her arm, whisper in her ear, “be nice,” in upspeak.
I feel the mood in the room shift. Catching the wave so to speak I ask the students to share their most embarrassing freshman moment in small groups. We’re calling it a community builder. The conversations explode, apparently this is a highly relatable moment, everyone has a story. The classroom is not a place but an irrevocable condition. [adapted James Baldwin] We’re still bonding over our past humiliations when the final bell rings, I grab my computer bag, and as I’m leaving the room hostile says, “thanks.” It doesn’t get better than this.
PS. You have to love students, adults never ask me if I think the devil is more interesting than God, or if I prefer the holy spirit over Jesus.
Living in the Gap, do drop in.