The semester on my first year as a professor is coming to a close. With it I’ve gained a much truer sense of who I am, and a greater appreciation for my past professors. Teaching was probably the most rewarding part of social work I’ve done. And absolutely the most fun. For those fellow teachers out there, or those thinking of teachers, or my students who might want to know what it’s like from my perspective, here are some things I picked up along the way(read:, trial by fire).
1. Leroy Jethro Gibbs- Rules for the Classroom Edition
I’m not necessarily talking about classroom rules like we had in elementary school. You’re in college/grad school now. If I have to have you make a list to respect other people in order for you to know that, you’re not lasting long in my class. The official classroom behavior and things like “do your work and show up” will be thoroughly covered within your syllabus, but that’s not enough to get you through. You do need to institute some guidelines though. Now I came into a class that I took over from a professor who was unable to continue. The students were in a bit of a…tizzy, as it was midterms, there was a lot of uncertainty- on both our parts. The first day couldn’t have gone less according to any plan. I’m there, without a text, without a syllabus, only a few days’ notice, without much more than my own social work skills and a gratefulness for my ridiculously good memory for the information. So from day one, Rule #1 was “Don’t Freak Out.” At any point should my students start obsessing, or getting overly anxious all I needed to do was ask “what’s rule #1.” Just like I would with a client, I made sure they knew that things might seem out of control for them, but I was very much in control(spoiler: total lie) Eventually they learned to trust me, and my reminders became less frequent as the understood that I wouldn’t let them fall. Not because of things outside of their own control. Now if they’re not doing work or showing up, they will fall or be pushed. Their responsibility is to learn, mine is to make sure they’re given everything they need in order to do so. And it doesn’t hurt to reaffirm this in your own life. There were quite a few times that had me reminding myself of Rule #1.
2. Textbooks remain obnoxious on the other side of the room
You might think that as an instructor I would suddenly find a newfound love of the textbook. After all, it’s where the majority of my content for teaching is drawn from…but you’d be very wrong. I hate the things. Textbooks, with few exceptions are the epitome of taking a concept that should be stated simply and succinctly and drawing it out for pages. K.I.S.S. Especially in the world of google, and the internet, where there are so many ways to put together material from a wide variety of sources, I am endlessly frustrated by the fact that the textbooks reign king. And this is form a girl who still refuses a kindle because books are friends.
3. I CAN HEAR ALL THE THINGS YOU SAY
Seriously though, do you all think I can’t hear every word you whisper to your friend? Classrooms are basically designed to send all those juicy little nuggets of underhanded comments directly to my supersonic bat ears. I can also see everything. Consider me an omnipotent god within the classroom only with grading powers. Now, my students would argue that it’s because I “prance” around for 3 ½ hours, which gives me an unfair advantage as I’m all over the place, but do you know how hard it is to lecture and eavesdrop on you? Yet, here we are, with me knowing every little thing you’ve ever said and a memory like you wouldn’t believe.
4. I Had To Redevelop My Poker Face
As some might remember from my previous article the development of a poker face in social work is crucial. And I’ve always had mine down pat…until I was faced with 12-20 individuals who can and will say anything. Or the time during my lecture where I accidently said(read: shouted) to a seemingly normal middle aged man who just happen to be innocently walking past my classroom and made eye contact “I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU” and then subsequently lost it as he had no choice but stop in a startled manner and then walk past the second door with all my students watching and laughing. Good sir, if you’re out there, I’m so sorry. Call me, maybe? And as you noticed in #3, I can hear all the things they don’t think I can, and it’s sometimes very hard not to react. But let’s face it, I’m not that kind of professor. Not only will I call someone out on something funny, it becomes a wonderful inside joke amongst them. And as the students become more comfortable with you they let pieces of themselves come out, sometimes for the first time in their career, and for some, for the first time in their lives as they bonded with those who share common beliefs.
5. I Will Never Grow Up… Not That I Had Planned To
Learning should be fun, and off beat, and full of laughter, because what teaching should do is instill a want to learn far beyond my own classroom. Now, information of course needs to be disseminated to the classroom, but I’ll be damned if I want my students to be the best at memorizing Erickson’s stages of development over an understanding of how developmental psychology was brought upon by historical and current climates of the day, and how it has impacted future practice. The only way to do that is to go so much bigger, and broader, and in my case, louder and more ridiculous than the true course material. My students are subjected(ha!) to puns, to history, science, technology, current events. There are times I throw out the textbook entirely(see #2). There are times when I throw out the syllabus for the day and address and current event like the Syrian Refugee crisis. And you know what? The best compliment I’ve received is “I wish I could have had her for history.” Because that means that I took something that used to be boring, and turned it into an area they want to know more about. That I made it relevant, and fun, because that’s what education should be. I don’t care about making a fool out of myself. If they’re laughing, it’s all good because they’re paying attention. And some of these students are with me at the end of a 9 hours day. How do I keep people interested and engaged from hours 6-9 of heavy duty coursework? Make them want to be there. Any degree, even social work should never be taught in a bubble. There are so many factors that go into it, that we do a disservice to our students by limiting their knowledge bank. I have never once been asked what stage of moral development a client was in, knowing the implications of such along with what else is going on in the world has been helpful. But that means I need to know what is going on. If I’m treating a patient for trauma from war, and am unaware of a recent attack, then I’m not going to fully understand why that person might be triggered that week. If I don’t understand the historical basis for institutionalized racism, than I might fall into a logical trap and believe that there are certain groups who are unwilling to move up. And if I bore you, I’ll never get that desire to ignite.
And as a bonus 5. B- I have loved every single second of the insanity, and each and every one of you.
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