teaching

Finding Your Voice as an Educator

I have been teaching for about 9 years. Of that, I have been in public schools for 7 years and of that, I have taught college for 2 years. Out of all of my experiences, I have found that teaching college was the hardest because of my age. I was 29 when I became an adjunct professor, but I did not look a day over 21.

My first class was filled with nontraditional students, mainly adult learners that had come back after many years of not being in school. The looks that they gave me when they saw me walk in and out my bag down on the desk, would be enough to have driven someone less driven right outside the door.

Instead, I made a joke about how I know I look like I’m 12, but I assured them that I did in fact have the credentials to qualify me for the position. It turned out to be one of the best classes I have ever had and to this day, I am still in contact with many of my students from that course.

I created my class with many opportunities to complete the required work and in cases where assignments were missed, I offered alternatives. Mostly, students are successful in my classes because they not only learn the material, but find a way that fits them in meeting the requirements and expectations outlined by the college.

This semester has been a hard one for me, as I have been working full-time at a hotel for wedding money while interning full time for my PhD requirements AND teaching a summer class. I am also enrolled in a quantitative research class that I am somehow maintaining my 4.0 in. Oh and let’s not forget the arts integration certification program I signed up for before I realized I had to take the hotel job. So, I cry a lot.

I pretty much don’t sleep. And the white stripe in my hair is I believe about twice as big as it was at the start of June. However, I am at the end of the summer class and my integration program and internship are winding down too. I am almost into the “I did it” phase.

The stress of this, I think, led me today to find my teaching voice in a college class. I teach a 5-week long course, I email students a month prior to the start with their book lists and inform them how intense these shortened classes are. I provide them with an outline, ways to structure their workload to ensure success and make myself available as much as I can. So, today, when several students request on the day that their course project that they have known about and been given opportunities to work on every day of class for 5 weeks, ask for an extension on it, my teaching voice came bubbling to the surface before I could stop it.

I, nicely, said to my class who looked at me wide-eyed; “You all have known about this project since May and I have been giving you chances to work on it since early July. I am sorry that you have to work or babysit, but the reality is you are in college and in college a deadline is a deadline is a deadline, especially when you have had a month of knowing that deadline.”

I don’t think I would have said that a year ago, I probably would have given the extension and stayed up late to grade. However, what this summer taught me, even in my PhD program as I have watched more and more people get weeded out, is that there are a lot of people who talk the talk and will tell you about all the things they want to accomplish, but they never set out and just do it.

And it really is that simple. If you want it, you just have to do it. And if you choose not to do it, no one is going to hand anything to you. You are entitled to nothing. And your life? Your life is pretty much what you make of it as well as the choices that you choose to follow. Sometimes, you will have to ask for an extension or a pass– but those times shouldn’t happen when you know that you haven’t proven yourself yet.

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