I start teaching again in three days. Of all the things this is–frightening, exciting, calling into question my long-held beliefs on whether I should work or steal from the rich as they travel through the forest–one thing it is not is a drill. Whether or not I go to the pre-academy staff lunch that I forgot to make an excuse not to go to, in three days, I’m going to be standing in front of a pod of high school students and a herd of college students.
If I were ever made into a cool action figure, my packaging would advertise both my kung fu grip and my interminable imposter syndrome. Batteries would not be included, but installing 2 AAA wherever they fit in me would give electric life to my tiny doll body and give grainy, unlicensed voice to such beloved catchphrases as “but what if they hate me” and “Am I even qualified to teach them,” and who could forget that instant classic that separates me from all the other entry-level college faculty toys “what if I fuck it all up?”
I’m getting to that point in my career where I am confident in my work, but I’ve also kind of forgotten what reasons I have for that confidence. Like, I know I’m pretty good at my job, but I’ve been doing it for a bit, so I can’t remember what parts of what I do are special and unique to me and what parts are just what teachers should do. I genuinely can’t remember why exactly my teaching seemed like good teaching so I’m in a strange confidence limbo where I know I’m pretty good at what I do, but I just cannot pinpoint why.
So I’ve had to start thinking of new reasons that I might be qualified or prepared or emotionally stalwart enough to stand in front of a relentless tide of youth and say “hey, do writing now please.”
First, I’ve been talking to my cat, my partner, and our puppy. I do this because all of these living, breathing, thinking entities seem to like me. We’ve all lived in the same apartment for a few months now and nobody has eaten each other, so that seems like a good sign. I figure that if three living beings of general wholesome benevolence can like me for this long while constantly being near me, I can convince a bunch of students to tolerate me for 4 weeks. Granted, I’m probably not going to cook delicious food for my students, but I think I’ll be ok regardless.
I’ve started staring at my degree and reminding myself that I actually earned that and I didn’t just order it from some weird shop online. Only, my degree hasn’t arrived yet. It’s still in the mail because shipping a bit of paper 5 miles apparently still takes 4 weeks. So I’ve been staring at the email saying my degree is in the mail because that’s as close as I can get to concrete validation that I have the academic credentials to take these children and their intimidating knowledge of internet vernacular and make them write about shit they only care about for an hour at a time.
I might fuck it all up. I’ve fucked up before. I drew a pentagram on my whiteboard once, and I wasn’t even trying to indoctrinate my students into anything other than a weird way of drawing out the rhetorical situation. I once gave my class a day off just so I could finish grading their papers before they turned in their next one. I once thought it was a good idea to give extra credit for picking out grammatical errors in my own handouts and powerpoints. No pretentious owl nor grad student has ever had to fight so hard to defend their use of “whom.” For me, teaching has been a constant negotiation of how I fuck up and how I can still make myself useful to my students so I’ve been thinking back to all the things I’ve done that seemed like a total blunder at the head of my class. And I’m remembering that sometimes those things turned out to be the best lessons. A day where I just forgot to write a lesson turned into one of my favorite activities where I demand my students analyze a series of more complex images and make wild-but-arguable claims about them. The time I drew a pentagram was a tiny bonding moment between me and the student who saw me mouth “whoopsie” and quickly erase half of the circle and start calling it a parenthesis. The extra credit… was just a mistake, not offering that shit ever again. I can transform totally fuck-uppery into adequacy if I need to.
I wonder if anyone ever reads this blog and thinks “wow, so glad I’m not their student.” That would be a valid thought. I wouldn’t want to be my student either. I’m a weird teacher that bounces between asking my students to spend entire class periods doing dense, analytical writing and spending whole class periods on dense, analytical arts and crafts for which I bring my own impressive box of crayons. I don’t really think I’m a good teacher, but I’m convincing myself that I won’t waste the time of a bunch of students that seem generally smarter and more driven than I ever was when I was their age. And if I do suddenly notice I’ve done something I didn’t need to, if I realize I’ve not used the time in the best, most useful way, well fuck it, they won’t notice every time.