Help, oh, help...

SOME DAMN FOOL a few months ago had an attack of the dumbass-crazies and decided it would be a really good idea to give me a teaching job. As far as I can tell, it seems to mean that they think I can actually teach some poor hapless 18 year-olds whose parents are paying an obscene amount of money to permit them the pleasure of sitting in a classroom and receiving the illuminating pearls of wisdom that are supposed to issue forth from my chewed-up chapped lips and change their sweaty little hormonally-charged lives forever.

So, today, for the record, I just would like to ask in this semi-public forum, what in the bloody hell were they thinking?

I told myself that I had to finish my syllabus today. TODAY. I had to have it done -- so that I can get off my duff and start assembling the course website. And, so that in 2 weeks (AAAIIIEEEEK!!!!) I can get up in front of a classroom and say, "Hi everybody, I'm Dr. Stewgad." (But without the Dr. part. Because I'm not finished with the damned dissertation. Oh, and hopefully, without the Simpsons-esque Dr. Nick voice I know I'm going to wind up with out of nervousness.) This means that I have to come up with something for them to read, write, do, think about, listen to, or watch for 43 days. That means, 43 different things. Lordy, lordy, I am so sunk. What sheer madness possessed me to think that I was capable of doing this? It's going to be so, so ugly!!

I've made it through day 25 on the syllabus, and now I'm in a big muddle. I was trucking along just fine, and then I got stuck. Should we focus on the OH SO VERY IMPORTANT issue #1, or on the OH SO VERY IMPORTANT issue #2 on Friday, October 21st? And then, I started worrying about the global pedagogical issues -- Should they only read the spoon-fed baby food of the textbook, or do they also need some Important Monographs? Should they write 4 essays or 5? Should I divide the material into 4 units, or 5? Should I have a final or not? It seems like every time I try to figure out what stupid pages of the textbook to assign, I start being plagued by questions like: How do you know whether to have exams or papers? How do you know how much to assign? What is the right ratio of lectures to discussions? I guess after a decade of training to know that there usually isn't a "right" answer to most questions, it is absurd and slightly juvenile for me to want a "right" answer to these teaching questions. But, I can't help but wonder, where on earth is my copy of the big giant Professor Manual that tells you how to do this teaching thing? I know in my heart of hearts that everybody else already HAS the Professor Manual, and have already memorized page 34 which reveals helpful things like: "Every syllabus should have 3 units. There should be no more than 10 pages of reading a week. You should cover Important Issue #2 long before you cover Important Issue #1, and absolutely do not teach a class without a final exam." There just has to be a manual, right? Otherwise it would mean that these thousands and thousands of academics re-invent the wheel each and every time they start to teach a course. Except, I think maybe they do - that, gulp, we do.

As a graduate student, I got pretty good at following orders. Now suddenly after a decade, it turns out that there are no more orders to follow. I think I'm a bit overwhelmed by the fact that not only do I now have to make up my own damned orders, but orders for 50 other people as well. I know I'm supposed to be reassured by the fact that: 1. I'll figure it out as I go, 2. I'll figure it out with experience over time, and 3. it doesn't have to be perfect the first time. But, somehow, with this fragmented, unfinished syllabus, hundreds of pages of text to download and put on the web, and the beginning of classes looming in the far too near horizon, none of these reassurances seem at all comforting. I'm not sure that "I'll figure it out as I go" is going to be enough to keep me from fleeing in sheer terror, breaking into great gulping sobs, or simply just passing out when I walk into a room with 25 people in it, eagerly (or not so eagerly as the case may be) awaiting me to open my mouth and teach them something.


{Postscript: A Very Big Stewgad Rude Finger Gesture to the horribly mean librarian who made me cry just now. I was a little late leaving the Cage because I cut my hand on a rough metal staple, was bleeding, and then thought I locked my keys into the Cage -- which is bad because I have to drive the car to the new office tomorrow -- so I took an extra minute to check and make sure I didn't have to get a librarian to come back up and let me into the Cage to get my keys. (I didn't) So, because of all of these things, I was 4-5 minutes late getting downstairs to leave the library, and when I approached the circulation desk, this Very Mean Man said, "You can't check anything out now. It's too late." Seriously, only 4 or 5 minutes had passed since closing time. 4 minutes! I thought he was teasing me, so I said, "You're joking?" And he said, "No. You are almost 5 minutes late. We can't check anything out now. We can put things on hold, but you can't check anything out. It's way too late." (Putting things on hold, incidentally, involves using the same fucking computer system that is required to check them out.) I said, "Only two of these (measly) five books I would like to take out are new charges, the other three are charged to my Cage. Will you allow me to return to my Cage to put them back, since I cannot check them out?" He rolled his eyes, and tersely said, "Fine." So, I lugged my incredibly full backpack, plus the whole crate full of books I was carrying with my bleeding hand, back up the two flights of stairs and all the way back to the Cage in order to put down three freaking books that this jerk wouldn't let me check out. I started weeping sometime in that journey, and didn't stop until Spousal Unit bought me ice-cream thirty minutes later. S.U. was so angry I thought he was going to go postal on that librarian right then and there when he picked me up and found me sitting by the side of the parking lot sobbing. I told him I didn't want him to kill the man, I wanted him to hold me. We compromised with cookies-and-cream. Now, I understand that there are rules, and that everybody who worked at the library was tired, they wanted to go home, but would it have killed them to be nice to a panicked grad student/professor who has never been late leaving the library a day in ten years? I don't think so. On a normal day, I probably would have told the guy to go to hell. Ok, maybe not. But, I wouldn't have had a major meltdown that required ice-cream to placate.}


At 7:35 AM Just Me said...

Fellow Ph.D'er here and I can totally relate! I did teach for 3 yrs with just my M.S. The first semester was very mediocre, but each semester definitely got better and I finally "found my groove." I was terrified of filling up one 3 hour chunk with riveting and insightful teaching, but graduallu I *think* I was able to do so. Looking forward to reading about your teaching adventure.

At 9:50 AM lucyrain said...

Oh, Stewgad, what a crap day.

If it makes you feel any better, I don't have that manual either. I have a new prep, classes start on the 29th, and I haven't even thought about the reading list. Well, I have a little, but not a whole lot. I'd feel better if I had taken a course on this topic at some point in my student career. But I haven't. And, I'm the one who proposed the course, so I can't blame anyone for the task ahead of me.

I'm not going to worry, though, and neither should you, Stew. It'll get done. It always gets done. (Those last two sentences were a mantra among my grad school friends and me. The passive voice is somehow soothing.)

Oh, and, that librarian is an asshole.

At 10:00 AM Suz said...

Good morning! Hope today is a much better day. You are making good progress and surely you know-- you have the manual. You are the manual! I suggest more short walks around campus or the block to break up your long days and show you the sky. Cage sounds awfully confining, to body and spririt.

At 1:06 PM New Kid on the Hallway said...

There's a manual???? Why didn't anyone give me one when I got my first job? Sheesh. I've been robbed!

Seriously, though, classes start a week from tomorrow and I still have to finish both my syllabi. (For one of them I have the schedule done but am still groping for assignments; the other I have most of the schedule done, but have to choose what portions of long stuff they're going to read. Like, for ex., what sections of Dante's Inferno should we spend three days reading, when I've never read the Inferno? Bleah!) Like Lucyrain says, It'll get done. It always gets done.

Just get used to the feeling of being one step ahead of the students all semester long... it's disconcerting at first, but they'll never know! And you'll do fine. My motto is, Do no harm. As long as you do no harm, well, whatever else you do is fine. (And I define harm pretty precisely here... having to adjust the schedule partway through the semester, for instance, is not harm! Harm is being unfair, unreasonable, or vindictive.)

At 6:04 PM verdade said...

Thinking of you!!
You're going to be fine in that classroom, just keep on going.

Blech, yukky big old @#$%^%$#@ to the librarian. Yay for ice cream and hugs.
Love you!

At 11:54 PM Stewgad said...

Thanks you guys - It is so nice to know there are others out there dealing with the same stuff. Sympathy is great. And it totally makes me feel better to find out that not everybody is perfectly ready to go!

And, Welcome Pam!


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