Syllabus drafting, lesson planning, in-class activity organizing, homework plotting— you can spend every heavy blink of your groggy mornings and stretching yawn of your delirious late nights scratching your brain to try and perfect the perfect college class. No matter how much of your already limited time’s spent fine-tuning vital course components, no amount of preparation will ever truly prepare you for that moment you step up in front of a class of ten or twenty or a hundred students, for that moment when all the lights are shining on you, and you’re the star of the show.
Lights, students, and…teach!
This might seem like no problem to anyone with dreams of becoming a movie-star-turned-professor. I have no desire to teach for the egotistic sake of casting myself as the lead role in Writing 102: The First Lecture. What I do desire, however, is the admittedly selfish benefit of feeling good through what I teach—feeling good knowing that the lessons and methods that I’m relating to my students are improving their academic lives, and by extension, their professional and personal lives.
Teaching is almost like a script gone improv. I come to every class with a detailed lesson plan, though half the time, halfway through, I suddenly realize the workshop’s shifted from discussing the ol’ outline blues to chalking up the ol’ reverse outline jazz. But in the madness of jazz there is beauty, and an order of sorts, and within this newly birthed form you follow its dancing, jiggling beat to the most effective outcomes for the greatest number of participants.
And that is the trick.
Every class is different. Every student is different, each with his or her own needs and skillsets and challenges and the list goes on. The question—or challenge—is this: how do I attend to all these diverse perspectives and levels of comprehension to ensure what I’m teaching makes the most sense to the most students? How do I make sure the rest don’t slip through the lectured cracks? That they’re all getting it? And what in the world to do with those who *gasp* might already know all or most of this stuff and think, “Geez, really? This is totally Mrs. Wah Wah Wah Wah Wah Wah’s fifth grade English class all over again…”
These are some of the most challenging questions I have found myself trying to find worthy answers for during my first semester in the Writing and Rhetoric program at Stony Brook University.
It really is a sort of balancing act. Literally. I often find myself drifting from one end of the classroom to the other, ever conscious of subtly reminding myself and each student: “Hey. This is your class, too.” Easier philosophized than accomplished, of course, but that is indeed the challenge.
In this way, teaching is a sort of frenzied art—or perhaps, more accurately, a show. Whether you wish to be its star or not, you are the A-list actor, the pulse, the power that makes all the other gears grind away. As a teacher, you will probably never have all of the answers, let alone all the right answers. You will teach students information and techniques from which they’ll continue to learn the rest of their lives. But no one can know it all, let alone teach it all. We offer some tools, blueprints, guidelines and insights for students to further their skillsets. We are only really qualified to teach because we have been at this longer than our students and gained some deeper understanding of what the elements to effective writing are and which techniques work to achieve what. We must show the value in that too, not just relate pure, bland, pointless details of no other relevance beyond, “You have to learn this because we say so.”
Therein lies our true job. Teach, yes, of course. We do that. But it is inspiring students to want to learn more, to teach the value of what we are instructing, wherein we find the true purpose of our craft. A show might not be much to watch without a lead role, but it’s nothing without a supporting cast that truly cares.