I started teaching in 2010, I was 25 and totally knew what I was getting into. By that I mean, I have no idea what I was getting into. Oh, I took classes on teaching and whatnot, but August 2010, I found myself on the other side of the classroom for the first time. I was not Roman anymore. I was Professor Colombo. And I was overwhelmed.
But I learned as I went, and I got pretty good at this. Students review me well, the departments I work for like me (until I start crusading. I do that sometimes) like me, I’m asked to take on more responsibilities, such as serving on committees and advising students…sometimes I’m even paid for this extra work! And I found a style of teaching that works for me. That’s a post for another time—we have this term called “pedagogy,” as if teaching styles were easy to define, but in reality, every teacher has their own pedagogy. Oh…maybe I don’t need a post. Yeah, that’s basically it. Okay, I’ll post about my pedagogy one day. I’m sure everyone would be interested in that.
The point is, I found things that work. I’ve developed lesson plans, made assignment, and implanted policies that worked. My first semester? Scary as hell. My second semester—still scary. My second year…oh yeah, I knew what I was doing. I got this.
And then, with the start of 5th year teaching, I learned a new, very important lesson: Never assume you’ve perfected a class. My go-to assignments that worked wonders just 3 months before—well, now students were struggling with them. Where they commented on how a certain assignment was the most fun they’ve ever had in school, hey now said was “like, totally lame, Prof. Colombo.”
I am aware that students change—I’ve never been blind to that. Even in a day, students can change drastically from one hour to the next. And term to term, there are always some variations. But I never expected a student body to be so utterly and completely different from the year before that I would feel like I was a 25-year-old professor again, trying to figure out what the fuck I am doing. But students can’t know that we are frazzled. They assume we have all of this down to a science. Even English teachers.
Now, I’m definitely not the 25-year-old. I’m 30 now—so, you know, I’m old as hell. I’ve learned to adapt, but now I am learning to adapt faster. Revise my style on the fly. It’s exhausting and I desperately want my old assignments to work as they did before. I don’t want to have to change everything (nearly everything) unless I am willingly doing so. The alternative is sticking to my guns and becoming the professor I hate: the one who refuses to grow and adapt and uses the same pedagogy they’ve been using for 40 years—who teach ugly things like the 3-pronged thesis and 5-paragraph essay (brain vomits). But I can see why a professor would end up that way. The ever-changing, at variable speeds, student body is scary, and it would be so much easier to just not change and let the students deal with it. I could be like God and Job. Job is all like “hey God, what’s the deal? Why did you make me suffer?” And instead of answering honestly, God uses the straw man argument of “Fuck you, I’m God, how dare you question me?” I am Professor. The great I am.
I am not.
I want to change, I want to adapt, and I want to learn. But that doesn’t always mean I will be able to do that at my own pace. Now, I am revising my assignments. Freshening up my lesson plans. Coming up with new assignments altogether.
Most of all, I am experimenting. And I decided to be open with my students and tell them I am experimenting. “This assignment didn’t work last time, so I am trying a new one.” I’m also having them assess the assignments after they complete them, reflect on them more and give me more feedback, instead of waiting for the end of the term.
Maybe this stuff will work.
Maybe it will crash and burn.
Maybe, in the end, there is no lesson about how to adapt or change as a professor. You just need to do it, and hope for the best.