“Profe” was my name for two glorious/grueling months this past year. On a whim I agreed to teach a couple of classes at the local university as it seemed a great way to get to know more of our community. Little did I know how different it would be from my undergrad experience and how much work it would be to teach these courses.
It all began when Allison and I stopped by the local university branch to advertise for our entrepreneurial class. The university happens to have a computer engineering focus so Allison let slip “that’s what my husband has his degree in, right Isaiah?” in front of the university director. “Well, uh, yeah…sort of,” I said with great hesitation.
The director, pleased with this news as it’s difficult to find sufficiently knowledgeable teachers of that focus in our little town, asked if I wouldn’t be interested in teaching some classes. I didn’t know. Would I be interested? It could be a good challenge and a way for me to get to know another part of our community. Even though I only have a bachelor’s degree, the director thought that would be fine. So finally I decided, “sure, why not.” How cool it’d be to be a college professor, right?
However, that conversation appeared to be the end of it. Weeks went by without hearing anything more from the university and the idea slipped from my mind. That is, until one day when Allison and I were leaving town to do some traveling with good friends from home and I got a call while on the bus. We were on a washed out road and it was terribly hard to hear, made all the more difficult by the fact that the conversation was in Spanish.
Would I like to teach a couple of classes? Perhaps, but what were the classes?
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QEnfjaksndui HD ,zc,mvnqhjnflapiqup.
Ummm, sure, okay. But we’re on our way out-of-town for a couple of weeks.
Classes are starting already? I can’t teach now as I’m literally on a bus out-of-town and won’t be back for a couple of weeks.
I can start when I get back? Okay. I’ll come by to hammer out the details when we return.
Two blissful, carefree weeks of traveling with friends came to an end and it was time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. At the university I was presented with the class titles for the first time in a form that I could understand. Wait, I need to teach an entire class about a semi-obscure technology that is becoming less and less relevant? And the other class is more of a graduate-level course on how to manage computer systems? Umm…sure, sounds good. And could I get started this coming week? No problem! Were there any materials from prior classes I could work off of? No? Okay, and books? Nope? And how long to teach all the material? Just eight three-hour classes for each course, two of which are exam periods? Fine, let’s do this!
I spent the next few days reviewing the subject matter for the two courses and began to develop an outline for each. Our town didn’t have resources for me to use, and so I hopped online to find whatever materials that I could (which in and of itself is far more difficult than it sounds as this was during our one-month period of waiting for the internet installers to actually arrive and the small public library picked such a time as this to temporarily close its doors for construction. But, alas, that’s a story for another day.).
Unfortunately, even with the magic of the Internet, many of the texts I found were in English and I was badly needing to develop my Spanish vocabulary in this area. I pulled together enough information for a first class and…it went reasonably well. I pulled out a few tricks that I had learned from our pre-service training (or picked up from my supportive teacher-wife) to make the class feel a little more lively and interactive. My efforts were met with varying degrees of success, but all in all I felt good.
During following classes, however, I really learned what I had gotten into in accepting to teach these classes. Things the students were expected to know prior to this material had not been covered in great enough detail and I realized that I would have to, as best as I could, teach some background information as well. With only five class periods remaining (since two would be used for mid-term and final exams), there was depressingly little time to review old material plus teach the new stuff.
Instead of panicking and running as far away from the class as I could, the words of the great workout guru Tony Horton came to me: do my best and forget the rest. And maybe the students would rise to the challenge with me. Perhaps they were starved for academic stimulation and would tackle the homework assignments with gusto in an effort to halfway catch up with the material. The world was ripe with possibilities.
Subsequent classes proved me to have been woefully optimistic. Not nearly all of the students had done the homework, and those who did seemed to have used only minimal effort . Perhaps I hadn’t made my expectations clear enough to the students? I tried again, to no avail.
I began to despair. What was I doing teaching this class? I imagined someone with a thick foreign accent trying to teach one of my own college classes and understood how that could make it more difficult to grasp new material. It could therefore hurt my motivation to do a good job in the class. And to be real, I remember not always giving my best in my college courses. Maybe these students weren’t so different from me in my young, undergrad years. Still, being on the teacher side of things, it was really frustrating and I wanted to find a way to motivate them to learn the material.
I would love to be able to say that at some point during my professorship there was a Stand and Deliver moment, and suddenly the students were inspired to give it their all and learn as much as I was able to throw at them. The reality of it though is that this moment never came. Although it was a relieving, wonderful freedom to turn in my grade sheets upon successful (hey, definitions vary) completion of both courses, my first go as a college prof still proved to be a valuable learning experience. Who knows, I might even try it again sometime.