Me, planning next semester's syllabus.

It’s finals day here at Fort Davis. This means that although I don’t really have that many students this semester, I’m spending the day surrounded by final projects, two copies of my class’s final student newspaper, my attendance book, a collection of pens, two cold cups of coffee and random pieces of paper that have been living in my bag this semester.

I don’t post much about my job as an adjunct professor at a local community college, mostly because I don’t want the kind of trouble that comes from writing about the workplace online. But I don’t think any harm can come from posting my feelings about the end of the semester, which are always bittersweet.

On the one hand, the semester always ends exactly when it needs to. Right when the pressure is the highest, and people start getting the flu, and everyone’s motivation has flat-lined, bam! No more classes. We have finals and then we’re outta here! Woohoo!
On the other hand? I always end up missing my students. Especially the ones who are going off-campus for good, graduating or transferring from community college to a four-year institution. I’m happy for them, but I’m sad to see them leave.

I was unprepared for this feeling when I started teaching three years ago. When I was a college student my own reaction to the end of the semester was a big, unmitigated YAY! Granted, things were busier for me then –  I was taking five and six classes a semester, working two on-campus jobs and working as a college newspaper editor at the time. I used to say good-bye to my professors with abandon. I cut them loose the moment I walked out of the final. My thought was that they would never remember me anyhow – they had so many other people to teach, why would they remember who I was? Until I ran into a former prof and he remembered me. Moreover, he was pleased to see me and interested in what I’d done with my life. And now, when I run into former students, and they’re happy to see me, or when one of them emails me with a question, I find that I am always ridiculously pleased. If I knew what an awesome feeling it to be contacted by a former student, I would have contacted more of my teachers. Actually, it’s probably not too late for that.

All right. Enough blogging from me. Back to the finals. I’ll be writing more about teachers  – although not college teachers – tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’m writing about nuns.


Classroom stage fright

I teach at the local community college. But one day a year, at my department head’s behest, I teach three workshops of high school students at the college’s high school journalism symposium. This is my fourth year of teaching the workshop, and every year I kind of dread it.

I have to get up earlier than usual, I’m not used to dealing with high school students, and I never know what kinds of kids are going to be walking into my workshop. Plus, despite the fact that I’ve been standing in front of a class twice a week for the last few years, teaching gives me a wicked case of stage fright. Even if I’m teaching kids I’ve been working with for years.

So needless to say, the high school journalism symposium gives me palpitations. Every year, I’m awake all night before the event. I worry about everything. I’m not sure if what I say will be interesting to the students, I’m not sure if I’m going to make myself look like an idiot and I don’t know if I’m going to have a disciplinary problem on my hands.

But you know, it’s never as bad as I’m afraid it’s going to be.  I think I’ve only had two belligerent high schoolers in twice as many years. For the most part, they’re respectful, cooperative and fun. I’m almost always sad to see them leave at the end of my workshop.  They ask good questions. One of the best ones I heard today came from a student who has been on her high school newspaper a month. We were talking about interviews, and she asked me if I’m ever scared when I’m about to interview someone.

Yes, I told her. I’m always scared before an interview. Without exception. I get butterflies before I make a phone call. I have to take a deep breath before I go into someone’s office to ask them a few questions. I am always, always nervous. Because you never know what that interview might turn into.

It’s kind of like teaching, actually. And usually – like teaching – the interview goes way better than I thought it would.