Wednesday, March 21, 2012

To teach is to learn twice. ~ Joseph Joubert

Winter quarter has ended. No, I’m not back in my perpetual role as a student, although I often wish I could be. This time I took the leap I fought for so long: I became a real (!) teacher.

I’ve taught short classes before: workshop sessions and conference presentations (maybe an hour or two each), and day-long computer classes in Word, Excel, Publisher, and the like. But this was my first foray into an eleven-week session with students I would see more than once. And after our first meeting, they came back! I was thrilled.

As my nervousness eased (speaking in front of a group has never been a favorite past-time), I found I was enjoying myself. Even though I stumbled around a bit when they asked for examples of concepts, I made it through. They kept coming back.

And I learned. I learned to think on my feet at least marginally better than I did when the term started. I learned to adjust my expectations as the students became individuals, with different needs and abilities. Hubby, consummate teacher that he is, has often told me how much explaining a concept reinforces the lesson in his own mind; by breaking a process down into its simplest parts in order to teach it to a newbie, he solidifies his own understanding. As is so often the case, he was right.

While teaching how to read critically, I found my close reading deepening. While teaching the importance of critical thinking in media consumption, I took greater pains to evaluate and analyze what I was taking in as well. And while teaching organization of thoughts on paper, I began to see ways some of my works-in-progress could be improved by following those same lessons.

I learned less syllabus-oriented things, too. I heard about a church I’d never known existed, even with all my past religious studies. From the class discussions, I realized how much we all had in common in some areas, and how different we are in others. After spending most of the past few years working alone in my office with the dogs, the social interaction was invigorating.

An ice-breaker question during introductions reminded me not everyone is an enamored of writing as I am. Several students consider it a chore, one even labeled writing as punishment! Her response led me to set a personal goal of changing her mind. I’m still not sure I succeeded.

During our time together, I was reminded to “Never judge a book (or a student) by its cover.” Looking at the strangers who faced me expectantly on that first night, I would never have picked out the young woman taking classes at not one but two universities; the grieving parent; the struggling mom juggling far too heavy a workload; and so many other nuances of personality that will remain in my memory.

And as a writer, maybe find their way into my stories. I warned the class upfront: careful, you’ll wind up in my novel. But don’t worry, the names will be changed to protect the innocent.

In some ways, I’m sorry to see this class end. We’ve forged a tenuous bond of sorts. I hope at least some of the class will want to keep in touch by email or Facebook (yes, I’m still out there, complaining all the while). But I’m also ready to move on. I have other demands on my time, new projects on the horizon. And next week after I get through grading ten research papers and recording evaluation narratives, I hope to return to my own writing. It’s been sadly neglected this quarter, albeit for a good cause.

I’ve been learning.


  1. As a part time teacher, I feel ya. The great thing about teaching is twofold for me: 1. watching students grasp what I am instructing; and 2.learning new things myself.

    By teaching and reading one brightens their horizons and finds some fulfillment.

    Congrats on your teaching experience! It sounds as if you are pumped up about it.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself, teaching is often a thankless job. (Much like parenting. Hm.) I do hope you'll return to teach another class - perhaps in the summer or fall? I think it would be interesting to have you as a teacher.

  3. Yes, Lisa, a LOT like being a parent, although I'm probably going overboard in that respect. I want to hold their hands, walk them through each step, not hurt their feelings... :-/

    Hard to learn to find that balance between friend/teacher/critic.

    See? I'm still learning! And I have more papers to grade before it's done for this round.

    Thanks -


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