Friday, January 20, 2012

Is there a teacher in this class?

Yesterday I had an unusual first day of the semester. I have never felt so prepared, never so calm, about a new class. I've had the syllabus printed and collated for a couple of weeks, the library workshops booked, the books in the bookstore, the e-reserves online and the films ready for streaming. For the first time, I had really thought of everything. I didn't have a single teaching anxiety dream. The morning of my first class I pondered whether this lack of anxiety was a bad sign or whether it simply meant that I had finally figured things out. I hoped it was the latter. I arrived in class a few minutes early, but not so early as to make the students nervous, and I made comfortable first-day chatter as I handed out my carefully-planned syllabus. As I looked up, I noticed that every single student in the room was giving me a strange look. One brave student finally raised his hand and asked what class I was teaching. When I answered Freshmen Writing, all of the students raised their hands and informed me that they were here for German class. If I had been in a good humor, I might have gotten out my copy of Beowulf and joked that Old English was close enough to German. Instead, I quickly and quietly gathered up my things and moved into the hallway. What I discovered after a few phone calls is that there had been a miscommunication about the class time. I had been told one time and my students had been told another. Further, my students had been told an earlier time -- I had missed my first class altogether.

Even at the time, I knew that this would shortly become a funny anecdote. I wrote my students an email explaining what had happened, and I was aware that it would be OK. Yet what I can take from it is that no amount of planning can account for everything. Part of being a good teacher, I think, is the flexibility to adjust to the situation rather than trying in vain to make the situation fit to a preconceived notion of how things should go. Not that good planning is a bad thing, but that in teaching, as in life, we simply cannot control all of the variables. And that's OK. This will probably be a much more memorable first day than any I've had thus far. If I spin it well, it might even provide us with a shared joke that could speed up our rapport as a group. My class theme this semester is dreams in literature and film, so maybe the feeling of displacement we all experienced will put us in the right frame of mind (I know my pneumonia-fueled fever last semester helped me identify with some of the crazy texts I was teaching). If nothing else, I can feel connected to the dream theme in that showing up to the wrong class on the first day is a classic teaching nightmare . . . Happy beginning of the semester, all!


  1. This is too funny but I can understand how it must have been mortifying in the moment. I still don't understand though, Where was the German teacher?

  2. Yeah, I wondered about that, too! Maybe he or she was there at 9:40? Or maybe I just get places earlier than other people?


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