When I came home from work yesterday I did three things: I gave Kyle a kiss, snuggled with Jasper, and then I laid down on the couch and promptly passed out.
I was exhausted. As far as Tuesdays go, it wasn’t really any more taxing than the Tuesdays before it. But it was special: It was my last day of teaching for the 2013 – 2014 academic year. The past few weeks have been a sea of grading and final project prep (well, among other things) which means I’ve had my head pretty low as per the norm at this time of year. And then, just like that, the semester was over. Where did the last eight months go, anyway?
I don’t usually say very much about my part-time teaching role at Loyalist College (I teach a course called “Social Media and Emerging Technologies” to first year students in the College’s Business Administration program). But it dawned on me the other day that I’ve just finished my 7th semester, and that kind of blows me away. I’ve been teaching at the College for three and a half-ish years now, but what have I learned in the process? Here are some reflections on my experience so far:
1. Time management: It’s not easy but it’s super important
When I first started teaching at Loyalist I was teaching six hours a week on top of having a full-time job. Then I jumped to nine hours a week (teaching two different courses) for one or two semester while continuing to work full-time at Quinte Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I couldn’t keep up and I’ve been down to a three-hour a week teaching schedule ever since.
Some people in my life were dismayed at the idea of me giving up the second course. Others have scoffed about me only teaching three hours a week and yet somehow still being so busy during those eight months of the year. What most people don’t realize is that, at least in my experience, for every hour spent in class there’s at least 2-3 additional hours of prep, grading, and communication happening behind the scenes. And because I’m part-time and working another full-time job on top, that means those hours are happening in my own personal time.
Now, I’m not complaining. It’s the nature of the beast and I knew that going in. When it comes to my social life, I basically cease to exist during peak grading times (especially in fall semesters when I can have upwards of 50 students in my class). I won’t pretend to be better at this than I am; I’m a procrastinator by nature. But the thing is, the grading needs to get done. Period. So, for the sake of my sanity I’m always actively working on being better at managing my time and tackling the additional work in more manageable chunks. It’s a work in progress, but it’s coming along. (Pro tips: Don’t be afraid to change things up if the system isn’t working. Delegate where you can and say no if you need to. Don’t let others make you feel bad when you need to prioritize).
2. People are unpredictable
I think most teachers get to a point where they feel confident in having a pretty good grasp on what to expect from students. In many cases, we do. Somethings really never change. But if there’s one saying I’ve heard almost every one of my colleagues say it’s that “every group is different”.
Each semester I have a different group of students and thus far each and every one has been unique. An assignment that is considered to be a no-brainer by one group might pose a significant challenge to another. I’ve seen one group react extremely negatively to the overall subject matter of the course only to have the next one embrace it enthusiastically.
This unpredictability as been an interesting lesson for me. I’m a creature of habit and it took me longer than I’m willing to admit to learn to expect the unexpected. However, being able to adapt is a valuable skill in life and I have to admit that I’ve become a more confident and well-prepared individual all around because of it . The key learnings here? Take things in stride and be flexible.
3. Practice makes perfect
Before I started teaching I could count the amount of times I had spoken in front of large groups of people on both hands. Despite having what some people in my life considered to be a knack for it, public speaking wasn’t something that I particularly enjoyed. It made me nervous and uncomfortable. But, as it turns out, having to stand up in front of a (sometimes hyper-critical) group of people for three straight hours week after week really forces you out of your comfort zone.
Now that I’ve done it so often I don’t even bat an eye at the idea of speaking to a crowd. In fact, public speaking has become a big part of what I do professionally outside of the College and, dare I say it? I’ve come to actually really like it.
4. You can’t make everyone happy
I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve had a friend or loved one tell me not to take it personally when a student is upset with me. Maybe the student didn’t like the way I graded their assignment or are mad that I won’t change the group they’re working with. Perhaps they felt I could have done a better job of explaining something or they don’t like the curriculum. In class I run a fairly tight ship – I’m strict on deadlines, attendance, and I’m a pretty intense marker. Some students appreciate it and others really don’t. It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I truly both understand and appreciate that I will never be able to make every person happy. The best I can do is try to remain consistent, fair, and transparent.
That said, something else I wound up learning in my ill-fated quest to make everyone happy (because, yes, that was originally what I tried to do and it back-fired spectacularly) is that I came to see dissatisfaction as an opportunity for learning. Instead of feeling hurt or defensive when a student is unhappy I try to be a better listener. I’m working harder at reaching out and asking for feedback. No one starts as a perfect teacher (especially not someone like me who more or less fell into the role) – the longer you do it the more you evolve and grow, but you have to open yourself up to the opportunity first.
5. Investing in the success of others is ridiculously rewarding
I remember a classmate in my fourth grade class telling me that I would make a great teacher one day. I was exceptionally disenchanted by the idea and swore that would never be the case. I’ve always had nothing but respect for teachers (even more so now that I’ve had a taste of it. I want to hug everyone I meet that does this full-time. Y’all are champs in my book) but, for a variety of reasons, it just wasn’t something that appealed to me. It’s funny how things work out…
Even now, I would never describe myself as a teacher first and foremost. I am, however, retrospectively grateful to have been given this opportunity. There are a lot of challenges that come with teaching but there are also some pretty big positives as well. The biggest of which is the totally awesome feeling of watching your students grow, event after they’re finished with your class. From the student that starts the semester doubting themselves only to finish at the top of the class, or the former student that has gone on to do amazing things, there is no feeling quite like watching them succeed. I love running into students in the hall or out in public and listening to them talk excitedly about the amazing projects that they’ve been working on. I see them online cheering over hard-earned grades, awards they’ve won, and plans for the future and I swell with pride.
It’s in those moments that I’m reminded that, in the end, it’s all totally worth it.
And so to bring this post full circle, another school year has come to a close. Rarely have I given my own progress a second thought, but looking back now it’s hard not to the impact that this experience has had on me. I’ve been exceptionally luck and, despite the bumps in the road, it’s truly been a remarkable experience. I guess it just goes to show that learning truly is a lifelong journey.