Monday, May 11, 2015

Goodbye, College. I Mean It This Time.

Last week, I submitted grades for the class I taught this past semester at UNCW, which means my short-lived career as a college instructor is officially over (at least until I'm famous). It's a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I'm glad that now I only have to focus on one job. I won't miss waking early to plan lessons, or grading papers on my lunch break, or responding to a thousand student emails asking a million questions, the answers to which are clearly stated in the syllabus. On the other hand, I will really, really, really miss teaching. 

Before coming to Wilmington, I'd never been a teacher. I'd led a few workshops about social media and given some library presentations, but this was a completely new experience. At first, I was very bad at it. I was nervous, I stuttered and fumbled, I painstakingly created lesson plans that broke my class down into five minute increments because I was terrified of finding myself in front of my class with nothing to say. Four years and twelve classes later, I'm a completely different teacher. I still get nervous, but my students don't seem to notice. (In fact, when I told them that public speaking still terrifies me, they refused to believe me until I held up my hand so they could see that it was indeed trembling.) I no longer over-plan my classes - I have a loose idea of what I want to teach, and I'm able to tailor it in the moment to the students, their mood, and their contributions. This, I think, has been the most exciting evolution of teaching - learning to create a lesson with my students, rather than plotting one out for them. 

While I didn't love teaching First Year Experience the way I loved teaching creative writing, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and so did my students. None of us were passionate about the subject matter and there were many occasions where it may have seemed like a waste of time. But we made the best of it and we had a lot of fun. I like to think I taught them something about life and college, and that they were able to think critically about who they are and what they want out of their time on earth. We asked hard questions, we dug deep, and we got really, really personal. Maybe too personal. I have a hard time holding back. 

This semester was particularly interesting because a few of my students were dealing with some big things, which they revealed to me in their weekly journal entries and in conversation. I felt privileged to be someone they could confide in, and I took the role seriously. This class in particular is supposed to help students adjust to college, to make a smooth transition from their old life to this new one. While my laid back teaching style probably wouldn't have worked in a more academic setting, it seemed to set the right tone in this one. For the first time ever, a number of my students hugged me on the last day of class. And not even for extra credit! It was humbling and lovely and even though we were standing in the same classroom, I already missed them. 

I hope that one day, I'll be back in a classroom, helping a group of students become better writers and maybe better people. Fingers crossed. Until then, I have plenty of work to keep me busy.