Why am I nervous?
I greet my students in an hour. I’ve done this hundreds of times, why the extra butterflies right now? I admit that I most likely always have a tad bit more adrenaline on day one, but not actual “nerves” like I do this morning. Is it the technology? The sheer volume of keystrokes in the right order?
I am meeting my students through zoom; most of the class hours will be zoomed hours. I did this in the great pivot we had to do immediately last March. But now, this zoom world is just standard fare, right? But still, this first day is likely to be saturated with tech issues. Students not able to get online correctly, not able to see my screen shares, etc… this would all be manageable if I considered myself anywhere close to being savvy with the technology. I’m such a neophyte, but sometimes I can pass. Don’t get me started on my 45 year relationship with anxiety around tech issues. But what I imagine is that a lot of the kids, though much more savvy and comfy with tech than myself, will still have tech issues I won’t be able to solve. This throws the wrench, the proverbial wrench…
My goal of the first day of class – start out right. Let the students see/hear/feel the kind of class they’ve signed up for. This means getting used to my energetic style and their having to think on their feet, as I move around the room (I’ll figure out how to do this virtually, I hope) asking them questions and creating what I believe is a safe space, but also a hot space…hot for learning. Blahblahblahblah (more another time, okay)
Back to my nerves. I just don’t want to be caught/seen as the tech-idiot teacher. I can pass, but maybe I should ask for some divine interference to help me sail through these first impression waters. First impressions are so critical, it’s easy to drown. In normal times, I walk into the room, I may be slightly nervous, just in terms of meeting 40 people all at once, blah blah blah…but my thoughts usually run something like this: “I got this, this is what I do.”
It’s time for a context check in here for you, my dear readers. I’m going to do this in short-hand, just for brevity, but know that each point is a whole book at least.
I teach theater classes. (most of them are more like history/lit classes. I do teach production and acting, but most of my classes are more “traditional” courses—reading, writing, critical thinking,blahblahblah…)
I put on shows. I write, direct, produce, blahblahblahblahblah…
I work at a community college where most of the students are “under-prepared” for college-level work. I put quotes around those words above because that phrase in coming under some serious social fire right now…who dares make these statements, etc….a great subject for another blog, okay?)
Most of my students are people of color. Most of my students come from working families, many of them first generation college students.
The college has 18K students, roughly. It is a minority majority school. One of the first of its kind in this way.
My fundamental pedagogy is Socratic. It’s all there, people, it’s in the language, people!
I gave up sharing the department chair job 8 years ago, so in some small ways, I’m not totally in charge, but I collaborate with one colleague on most major department issues.
Back to the gist of the morning nerves. In my line of work, I have relationships. I’m about to start roughly 100 new relationships, 99.9 percent of which will be over in a few months. But they are relationships which require conscious work, acknowledgement, care, and perhaps love. It’s true, I love my students. I do. Go ahead and call the authorities, I guess I’m not supposed to say things like that, and don’t worry, mums the word in the halls. But it’s true. I’m not attracted to them or play out any of it in any of those worrisome ways. But for a few months, I love a lot of people. I take them inside of my heart and mind; they take up residence, I give them free room and board, for the next 17 weeks or so. It’s too long, and we’ll all feel that truth in about 14 weeks. So yes, first impressions are important.
I take stock: My clothes – well for zoom, this just means what is my top—hair is wild but not too wild. Clothing a bit off-center, but not freaky. Makeup, the same. Not freaky. I don’t want to be perceived as the freaky, tech idiot, hippie teacher. Nor do I want the students to see a schoolmarm, an old-fashioned old lady who is completely out of touch and worse, dressing the part.
Of course, I am already beyond the kids so far so far so far so s o soooo farrrrs so far….that these feelings are old feelings, still in tact from my earlier years. It’s quite possible that it matters not at all: I try to look youngish and attractive, but maybe all they see is an oldie who is a weirdo. Maybe that’s the best I can do now, after 30 years. I have long lost my “hot, new teacher” status, where the boys and girls both just want to get to know me, cause I’m so…so…you know….relatable…”She’s just so so …you know, she’s just cool, I guess.” But those ships have sailed maybe 10 years ago…I just need them to know that I am going to get them on their toes, not their heels. Sometimes this comes in the form of being truly connective and warm with them, sometimes it comes from being prickly and sarcastic. I will keep them guessing…that’s key. Don’t let them, and don’t let yourself LePell, fall into a pit of predictable, strictly strictly, super structured, perfectly outlined set of actions.
Find that sweet spot LePell…you know it’s a gift you carry – structure / preparedness coupled with playfulness/ spontaneity. Be present and be alive…that’s all I ask.
That’s a lot.
I pray for help.
That’s what I do.