The most important thing I have to say about teaching is that it is hard as hell. Before I started teaching I had no idea how difficult of a craft it really is. So many of my teachers and professors made it look easy. But as a student, you have a very different vantage point of teaching. You teach a few times a week, assign some papers and test and give out grades. What more to it is there? The answer is: a lot!
With that said, I believe that there are some people who are a natural fit with teaching. I am not one of those people. I struggle with it a lot. I never thought it would be this hard. It truly is an art. You can learn the art over time, but again some people come to understand and embody the art much easier than others. It is also a people-person profession.
I am a die-hard introvert. Some people absolutely hate being alone. I absolutely love being alone. It not only doesn’t bother me, I prefer being alone. I never fully realized how extroverted the profession of teaching is until I taught my first class. I thought to myself: this is going to be interesting. The best teaching to me creates an ideal classroom community. I believe in a classroom community in which the teacher’s power is de-centered. I like to sit in a circle. I like to have discussion-based classes. I like to be one member of the learning community who is on an equal footing and who serves more as a facilitator than as a “sage on the stage.”
Over time, I have gotten more comfortable with classroom dynamics. Every class is different and some are more difficult to manage than others. There is a wide constellation of differing personalities that meld together nicely or that can clash repeatedly. I can never quite tell how a class is going to go. I enter the first day with a lot of nervousness. It takes a minimum of 2-3 weeks to see what a class is really going to be like. There are classes I have really loved and classes I have disliked.
I truly believe that the professor/teacher can only go so far. Can we set the tone? Maybe to some degree, but we need responses. The ideal classroom thrives on an engaged response from students. I tell the students quite candidly on the first day that there is nothing quite as bad as a class where students don’t talk. I make it clear right from the beginning that they are required to speak and be thoroughly engaged. Some obey this directive and others do not, but if at least 50-75% of them do, it can turn into a good class.
I don’t think there will ever be a time when teaching does not give me anxiety. I don’t think there will ever be a time when I think teaching is easy. But maybe the nerves and the difficulty actually help to improve the class. I certainly never take the class for granted nor do I have low expectations. In the 15 weeks that we have, I wanted it to actually mean something. I want the class, or at least part of it, to be memorable and useful. And this goes for both students and teachers. As I said when I started this blog entry, teaching is HARD work. But I have to believe it is worth it and that we make some kind of a difference in our students’ lives.