My First Teaching Experience

I have the writing bug again, and insomnia.

This post is going to be boring, but the tale must be told.

Let me tell you about the first time I taught. I’ll never forget it.

I was 24 years old, and teaching American History and Culture. I had a scholarship–I’ve always been a scholarship kid–and teaching was my obligation, and my aspiration. My dream job has always been to be a teacher.

I was dirt poor and living in a very tiny studio in a house the neighbors called “The Crack Shack” because it was so run down. I did not have a suit or a blouse and skirt to teach in. I could not afford to buy luxuries. My stipend (which I was very grateful for) was $900 a month.

I had a very conservative black cocktail dress. It came up to my throat and went down to my knees. It was the best I could do.

It was sleeveless, and form-fitting. I was also wearing short heels and a pearl necklace my mother gave me. My hair was in a French Twist.

I cannot tell you how many hours I spent obsessing over the syllabus and my lecture.

When I came into the classroom I had a complete panic attack. Speaking in front of an audience? I thought I was confident, but what the hell?

(I can do it now, no problem, but it was a shocker to me then!)

I started to write my name on the board. Administration had assigned me an old-fashioned classroom with a green board and chalk. No smart classroom for me! Not even a piece of WWII technology like the overhead projector!

This is the funny part: I started trembling. It was precisely how one of my professors said when I consulted her about teaching: once the adrenaline hits your system, you’re done. Nothing you can do but wait it out.

,My handwriting was shaky, bended, and started to shrink. “Instructor Margo Adler” reduced to tiny letters.

I saw two football players giving me the old up-and-down as I stood there, writing. God, I can’t completely blame them because men can’t help themselves, but I felt very exposed and they turned out to be awful students anyway.

It did not help that this was the worst group of students I’ve ever had. I’m not blaming them, but I’m serious. There was one guy in there who happily talked about the material, because he actually read it. The rest were mute.

Well, not totally mute: one gave me a really shitty evaluation at the end of the semester: “Miss Margo is a very poor communicator,” among other poor observations.  She was pissed that I gave her a B-, and I was being generous.  She deserved a C.  “I need to get into law school and this doesn’t look good on my transcript!” Yeah, sorry, your analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper was wrong. In order to be a lawyer, you have to write well.

And I know it’s not just me, because my next class loved my ass (I had two classes, back to back). I stabilized in the Teacher’s Lounge and got some advice from the professors.

What they said boiled down to: “Wait until you stop trembling. They’re not going to bite you. You know what you’re talking about.  You’re the one in charge!”

I went in there with an attitude: These kids are not going to intimidate me!

You have to go in with an aura of loving authority.

This relates to my prodomme work.

Give them credit for participation in class discussion. Discern the shy ones who know the readings from the ones who don’t talk because they didn’t study. Any effort should be rewarded. Not saying someone who doesn’t comprehend the material should get at A, but if they work, they deserve credit.

Slackers can forget it. I have failed several plagiarizers. I go absolutely batshit over plagiarizers. Paraphrase is a fine art. You can’t just steal someone else’s work.

Half the teenage scholars I flunked would have gotten a pass if they just put quotation marks around what they stole.  That and a citation, and you’re golden.  I have written hundreds of essays, and when I was lazy and under a deadline, I would jack a whole paragraph just to take up page space. Very poor scholarship, but at least it was honest and true.

That is my first teaching experience.

 


2 thoughts on “My First Teaching Experience”

  1. I think everybody is terrified when they start teaching. I started when I was 23, and most of my students were only two or three years younger than me. Also, during my first week of classes,in order to get certified as a teacher, I had to have an “open lesson” that the rest of the staff could watch. I think I lost half my body weight in sweat that week. After that, it got better, but yeah, I remember that feeling 🙂

    P.S. Nice to be reading you again. Virtual hugs from a long time reader-lurker

    1. EXACTLY. Your experience is mine. Add to it the disillusionment–I thought it would be like Goodbye Mr. Chips or Dead Poet’s Society. In fact, I felt–and have always felt, even when I was/am teaching in Tier 1 schools, that I was digging in the trenches.

      Thank you for reading, and it is very nice to meet you!

      Margo

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