My first day in the classroom was in Spring of 1999. At the ripe old age of 22, I thought I was ready for that first day with my leather briefcase (that I still have tucked into the back of my closet) and my new ‘grown-up’ hairdo. While that briefcase got a lot of use, it certainly was not enough to prepare me for being in front of a class of college students…most of whom were my age or older.
In fact, my first few years of teaching, I got used to the snickers and the “are you serious?” and “no way!” comments that began when I opened the door to the classroom and walked to the front of the room. I learned to avoid casual attire and stocked up on professional clothing, instead. And, following the advice of one of my first deans, I started wearing make-up so that I would look older.
Now, I know that looking old enough to teach isn’t really the most important part…but I had to learn really fast how to capture the attention and the respect of my students. I did so by treating them with respect. Students soon found out that I was serious about helping them learn to write…and I put my money where my mouth was by spending hours with students one on one helping them.
One of my favorite success stories was a ‘young’ man (probably older than I was! ha!) who came into my class barely able to write a sentence. But he sure worked hard! We worked together on revision after revision until he finally got it. The look on his face when he realized that he was able to write a paper on his own and do it well for the first time was priceless.
Of course, not all stories have feel-good endings. There was the time a friend from high school (he graduated a year before me) showed up in my class expecting an easy A. (He didn’t get it!) I clearly remember the first student who confided in me that she had been raped and the student who had to drop out because she got pregnant. I still consider it an honor to be trusted with student confidences, though I hope I am better equipped to handle those now.
I am old enough now to wear jeans to class, and I wear makeup to look younger instead of older, but I hope I never lose that bright-eyed hope of my first day of class…that I would be able to help students become better writers, ultimately helping them to achieve their dreams and goals. As teachers, we are given a mighty responsibility…not just to fill our students with information, but to encourage them and to inspire them to be all that they can be. I think that is the thing I would share with myself…that students are worth it. They are worth every minute spent in preparation, teaching, office hours, one on one tutoring, and, yes, even every minute of grading papers.