Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Eager Learners

Standing in front of a class can be intimidating.

Standing in front of a group of high-achieving, highly-motivated, top-of-the-line Christian college students is terrifying.

Especially after five years.

I wondered if they could tell I was nervous. I wondered if they could tell I was out of practice. I wondered if they would mock me behind my back . . . or, heck, even in front of me.

They could, you know, mock me. They would have every reason to do so. It was not a good hair day.

I wondered if they could see me sweat. Sweating was something I was really good at today.

And I wondered if they could tell that I didn’t sleep very well last night. All night long, every time I flipped over (which I did a lot of last night), I pictured myself walking the halls of the very old building in which I teach. I don’t know why I was walking the halls—I’m the old ghost they can’t get rid of, I guess—but I do know that in my dreams I never really made it into the classroom.

Bad sign.

Thankfully, though, I did make it into the classroom. Twice. I’m teaching two classes this fall; same subject, both, because we don’t want to confuse the old ghost and plus we’d really like her to pull her hair out grading 42 papers at a time. What was I thinking?

Is it too late to back out now? Probably not. They’ve been paying me since July.

Anyway, I made it through the first two classes without too much trouble. Even a baboon could walk their way through a syllabus and tell the kids to write something. Which is pretty much all I did today.

I learned something today, though, which I will share with you just in case you have someone going to college soon or who is in college now or in case you’re thinking about going back to college someday soon: these kids are eager learners. And I say that in the kindest possible way.

Now, my oldest, Kate, was what you might call an eager learner. She was the kid who always raised her hand in second grade--you know the kid, the one who wiggled her fingers like crazy and rested her arm in the other hand when it got tired--just hoping and praying the teacher would call on her. Kind of like Horshack in the old “Welcome Back, Kotter” show.

Remember him? “Ooooh! Ooooh!”

Anyway, I know for a fact that some of Kate’s elementary school teachers didn’t appreciate her learning style. They might not have seen her eager hand waving raising as a positive thing in their classroom. They might have even thought it was annoying.

But I always found it endearing.

Anyway, today’s students would put Kate to shame.

Five years ago, the last time I stood in front of a classroom full of bright, shining, college-aged faces, my students were kind of aloof. Occasionally someone would talk to me after class, but rarely, and I do mean rarely, would a student come to see me in my office. Only in the most dire of circumstances would one of my students venture up to the third floor cubicle where I resided back then.

Back in the day. When I taught with confidence and my students were just normal.

Today I have already fielded two emails from the same student wondering about his research topic. (Hint: the paper is due at the end of the semester—16 weeks away!) I’ve had one student come see me in my office about the same thing. I had one student give me an official-looking government-type document excusing him from class on Monday (he has to go out of the country—the nerve!) And I’ve had about 15 students shake my hand and introduce themselves.

Honestly, I was overwhelmed with their kind welcome back to the classroom.

I shared my surprise with my family over dinner and they all agreed that these kids are the product of their competitive environment. They have all been told to meet the teacher, stand out, to make an impression from Day One.

But really? Maybe a few could just wait to meet me on Friday.

Because to tell you the truth, after getting up at some God-awful hour (well, compared to the God-nice hour I had been getting up all summer) and spending eight—EIGHT!—hours at work today (folks, I honestly cannot tell you the last time I put in an eight hour day at any job) I went home with a wee bit of a headache.

Not from the students. They were delightful.

If not eager.

Two classes down; 46 to go.



  1. Oh boy oh boy! I'd say your students were eager to meet you because, good hair day or not, you're a very welcoming person.

    You know what you were NOT five years ago? You were not someone with a child who is a college student. You've always liked college students; now you love them in a way you couldn't have done before. I think your current students could sense that you were someone who cared. About them, not just about their papers.

    Oooh! Oooohhh! Mrs. WIldman! Mrs. Wildman!! Pick me!! (Oh, yes, I remember Welcome Back, Kotter very well. We knew John Travolta when he was Vinnie, didn't we? And if we forgot, we could get a note from Epstein's mother.)

    Okay, this comment is nearly as long as your post. I think I should go to bed. Happy teaching!

  2. Love your reflections, Shelly. I foresee a good semester ahead for you!

  3. Richella, you are too sweet. I love your insight, and I hope you are right.

    Thanks, Leigh!

  4. After all that... and you still wrote a blog post? Wow. You are incredible. I wish I could take your class...I bet your student are gonna love you...truly. Exciting times ahead.

  5. LOL. What a fun read. You're such an awesome writer. I mean, you should be, of course. LOL. But still. I loved reading this. :-)

    You're going to have a great year. I know it! :-)

  6. Shelly, you
    R O C K !!!
    I give you a
    zillion kudos
    for getting
    back in the saddle,
    so to speak.
    I wonder if today's
    stay in touch
    society ~ blogs,
    facebook, e-mail,
    etc. has just
    churned out a
    generation of kids
    who want to be
    heard? I think
    it's great that
    they aren't fearful
    about communicating.
    And how lucky are
    they to have YOU?
    Good luck with it
    all ~ you amaze me.
    xx Suzanne

  7. You guys are so great. Thanks for your fun encouragement!

  8. Shelly, you're going to be a wonderful teacher! They are blessed to have you! And I think your dream is actually a GOOD sign. At least you weren't walking the halls naked!!! :-)

  9. Yay!!! (See me? I'm waving my hand around in the air, so you'll make sure and get my comment. Because I'm an eager reader.) ;)

    Yeah, I'm definitely that kind of student. Sit in the front, answer all the questions, turn my paper in first. Hmm. Kind of makes me wish I could go to your school!