Less than an Hour From Now

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.

Published by rachellepell

Not like Picasso. I am no genius. Not Matisse or Kadinksi. In fact, would rather stay invisible, but I have to reveal what I'm like...like..a...writer...sorry. That means work. I can also play. but fuck it...no one likes to play much anymore. not here on the Internet. That's okay with me. I'm just trying to live and learn. and Like it.

2 thoughts on “Less than an Hour From Now

  1. I get you, completely. I hate the totally online thing. Seriously. My approach is generally fairly structured, the content and the plan of the semester, the the week, the day are set, but once I walk into the classroom, the plan is the base for 60 minutes of impromptu, leaving 15 minutes for Q&A and review/segue and look ahead. I can set up a good class totally online, totally asynch. Good reading/viewing, good assignments and papers. It’s a good class, I know it is, and students tell me it is. But, I think my face-to-face classes are better.

    But, I don’t have the personal confidence to do the zoom thing. I can’t look at myself in the screen continuously, and I can’t see enough of the faces or the bodies to read the body language/expression. I need that to know whether they understand, whether they’re in it, whether they question or are bored. I can’t do that on ZOOM. And, it is that personal contact, when I know they see what I hope to teach–the course becomes magic. And, I don’t know if I can do that on zoom–both because of my own baggage and that difficulty reading body language. it’s funny, stage work never bothered me, probably because I don’t see myself. This really does.

    As I read about your encounter with technology, I really empathized. I mean this seriously: Consider buying a tripod and a good (but not great) USB webcam. Set yourself up in a space with more distance between you and the camera. So, you can stand up and move around. So, your energy can be seen (and hopefully felt). You don’t need a huge amount of space–maybe six feet. And, the tech here is cheap. The webcams with a long cord are inexpensive, so are the tripods. The camera plugs into the usb port of your laptop or desktop.

    I find it SO curious that you worry about how your students “see” you. You have always come across to me as someone with mind-boggling confidence and no need for validation from others. I think if you are completely yourself–the self I see–they will see the amazing artist-mind-body I do.


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