A Letter to Returning Students from a New Teacher Who is Also a Student

Dear students,

I am a new teacher at a university, and I’m also one of you. I am a student that teachers other students, so I am returning to the fray on two fronts. I’ve been a student a long time and a teacher long enough to have an informed opinion. I’ve seen friends and peers struggle and fail when they return for the second semester of the year, and it’s always for the same reasons. Here is how not to ruin the second half of your year straight from the mouth of someone who got through school without burning out and also a teacher with the power to dish out those fearful F’s. As a side note, F for me stands for “Ya Fucked up” because that’s what you’re supposed to feel if you earn one.

Don’t go into the Spring semester feeling like it’s something new
The Spring is not the fresh beginning of a new chapter in your life; it’s not the time when grass bursts through the cold earth to herald the return of vitality to the world. Spring semester is just another piece of the same thing you’ve been doing for years. I learned not to think of Spring semester as a separate entity because that encourages you to treat it the same way you treated the Fall, to make the same stupid mistakes and justify them with some catch-all excuse like “it doesn’t matter because it’s the first day/week/month.” I’ve heard my friends say that, and I’ve heard my students say it too. I’ve rarely felt such righteous glee as when one of my students came to my office asking if they could re-submit their first assignment in the last week because it turns out that C- mattered after all.

Don’t test your teachers because you think you’re  wiser after one semester
Most teachers love their job and their students; I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to put up with any of the Winter break mindset leak into my classroom. I love my job, but I do not love grading, and ungraded papers are the slimy discharge all students leave in their wake. Look into your teacher’s eyes when you hand in that first paper and you will see the entropy of the universe, the hot death of their spare time that went to napping and drinking and eating actual food. I like to treat the first day of my class a little like a prison yard: we have some fun, bonds form, but I will absolutely take down the baddest motherfucker in the room the second I find an example to make. I am the DEA of my classroom’s war on phones, and I’m ready to bring down the law on the first person who dares smuggle a text. Luckily, after the first student is phone-shamed, we can go back to having a good time and writing about wizard pugs–because that’s something I do and it’s fantastic.

Come back from Spring break quickly because nobody will wait for you
Someone I knew during my freshman year never came back from Spring break. He didn’t die; he just kept smoking weed and being anywhere that wasn’t campus for the rest of the year. When his roommate told me he hadn’t come back, I said he must have“Spring broke,” and I’ve been coasting downhill from that nugget of comic gold for years. In the days that followed my comic peak, a few people asked what happened to this disappearing youth, but that was all they did. Nobody was in charge of delivering his homework to him or keeping him updated on what lessons he missed. His name was mentioned exactly once in a class we apparently would have shared because his name was only on the roster the first day and the professor asked if he was in the room. Then, like a would-be parent on Maury hearing good news from a blood test, the teacher absolutely stopped caring about this kid. I care about my students, and I’m invested in their success, but when one of them disappeared off my roster in the first week, then I’ve forgotten them by week two because there’s just no time or reason to put effort thinking about them when they can’t be bother to think about my class. This doesn’t just go for the physically absent either. If you come back from Spring break vacant-eyed and hungover and stay that way for a week, then you are essentially not in the room and nobody cares how rad of a time you had the week before. Nobody has ever cared how cool your Spring break was. Nobody.

So, students, welcome to the new semester. Don’t fuck up too much and you’ll be fine. Also, read your syllabus, go to your professor’s office hours, check your email every day, revise your papers, raise your hand, and eat a mint before your morning classes because 20+ morning-breath coffee-mouths is a kind of heinous fragrant assault you usually only get in the air above Tokyo or a high school wrestling room.

Do words!

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