1. They always want to talk late at night- 1 AM emails: “I know its late but my paper is 2 page under and i just really can’t think of anythin else to talk bout Can you help me????”
2. They sometimes show up to your important events drunk- If a student randomly starts putting song lyrics into a paper where the grammar has been getting progressively worse, check to see if your due date corresponded with a “foam party.”
3. They’re never the same when they’re with their friends- they might know the distinction between “gender identity” and “sex” in class, but you’ll be lucky to get a nod out of them on the breezeway.
4. You may at some point have to deal with their mothers- though to be fair, I’ve never had a student’s mom call me a slut.
5. They would always rather stay with you then move on- Even the ones who don’t like you want to know which section of 1102 you teach.
6. They really just need one more chance- They swear that this time will be different. This time they will treat you the way you deserve. All their papers will be done early.
7. Do not give them one more chance.
8. It is always better to give them a line than to get emotional with them- “Sorry, I just plug the grades in, I can’t really change them.” “It’s not fair to the people who put the work in all semester.”
9. It’s always uncomfortable to run into them afterwards- Stay composed, smile, say hi, and keep on walking.
10. When things aren’t going well with their new partners, they will want to talk to you-- These aren’t school-wide office hours where I get paid as long as I’m helping a student.
No movie they show on Oxygen prepares a person for the emotional rigors of being a teacher. While “Freedom Writers” and “The Ron Clark Story” do cover how one becomes attached to them, freshmen are rarely so invested in happy endings. So when one of those kids goes and emails your boss or “co-writes” a paper with a friend or accuses you of being a bad teacher when you won’t change a grade, it stings.
Perhaps even more unsettling is the fact that every teacher thinks that education and good grades are important. We’ve devoted years of our lives to this ideal. We lose sleep and read books and write paper after paper in pursuit of it. So now we’ve got 44 kids we want to inspire to do well, to take learning seriously; but we have absolutely zero control over their actions. We can’t follow them home and we can’t do the work for them. Nevermind that these students are 18 years old. They might have fully developed prefrontal cortexes but they won’t figure out how to use them for at least three more years. They aren’t saints and you can’t be Sister Mary Clarence all the time either.
Learning to teach is like “The Great Debaters” in that the story always ends better than it began. Confidence comes with practice, and the boundaries of their mistakes, your mistakes, and the payroll department’s mistakes start to become clearer.
Over my first semester it was the people who said things akin to, “how is teaching going?” who kept me sane. The question made me realize that even though I was tremendously grateful to be in the program, even though I knew I’d taken the place of some other young hopeful, I wasn’t supposed to just automatically be a good teacher. I was even allowed to have feelings about it. That simple liberty did a lot for my mental stability. Thanks to the people who patiently listened to me rant and worry while I was still figuring out the line between being Oh Captain and Miss Trunchbull. And looking back on my first semester of teaching, I am reminded that, for better or worse, they always remember their first.
Maddy Miller has a full first name, but she would prefer if you didn't know it. She got her BA from the University of Utah, swears in her sleep, can fence a little, and her first kiss belongs to a frog. She believes her amphibious choice was probably better than most.