Friday, January 16, 2009

A New Day

On Friday, I met my new group of students for the semester. I was supposed to have 54 students in 3 classes, but 10 did not show up and one came to add the class, so I only actually met 45 students. For the first time since I started teaching, I am *not* teaching at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning. It was kind of nice, not having to get up super early (in order to account for biking to work, getting un-gross, changing, etc.).

My first class is across campus at 10, and I got over there a few minutes early. About half the class was there already, sitting perfectly silent, with those funny, only-students-can-have-that-look gazes. My room actually has technology, so I started to get out my syllabi and set up the computer/projector so I could show them a few important things. They remained silent. I finally said that were under no obligation to be silent before class began, so they could absolutely talk to each other while I got things ready. It felt as if someone had released air from a balloon. The tension released immediately, and they all started chatting, introducing themselves to each other. Just based on first impressions, I would predict that this class will probably be a fun class to be with - they seem to be exceptionally comfortable talking with each other, and so as long as they come prepared, I think we should probably enjoy the time together.

My second class is in the same room at 11, and so there is a whole new problem when they walk in. You see, for whatever reason, when undergraduates come to a classroom, especially on the first day, they seem to be terribly nervous if the instructor is already in the room. It doesn't matter how much bravado they put on for the rest of the year - if they come to their classroom 10 minutes early and I am already there, their eyes get big, their mouths clamp shut, and they sit staring at the floor until class begins. Again, I tried to remedy this situation, but this time when I told them they didn't have to be silent and could talk while we waited, no one blinked. They all just sat there. The makeup of this particular class is very different from the first class. I have four or five girls who I think you could perhaps classify in the punk or alternative group. I hate to admit it, but at first I couldn't tell if a few of them were male or female. I was a little surprised when one of them said her name, as I was expecting a guy's name. Added to this group of no-nonsense girls are 7 students from India. I would venture to guess that a bunch of them, all computers/science/engineering/ majors, needed a core class and decided to take one together for moral support. There are 6 males and one female, and all of them speak terribly softly and at least two of them seemed to have a great deal of difficulty understanding me at times. I'm going to have to try to talk a bit slower and make sure I'm enunciating well, I think, until they get used to my (non-specific) accent. I also have a student from Lithuania in this class as well. Depending on how well they write, I wouldn't be surprised if this class is my best in terms of grades, but my hardest to deal with for discussion. We'll have to see.

Oh, one fun tidbit concerning the classroom: when I walked in the room, I saw on the board this odd groupings of words and scribbles, but clearly in the middle was the name of one of the other history grads. I presumed he taught in the room at 9 and went to go erase the gibberish so I could write some key info of my own on the board. Except... it didn't erase. In fact, it was like I didn't touch the words. I look back at the desk with the computer and see a marker, pick it up. As I roll it over in my hands, I see the dreaded words: Permanent Marker. Yep, he used a permanent marker on the board. I can only hope the someone will be able to clean it up so 1/4 of the board is not ruined for the term.

I have an hour in between the second and third class. Unfortunately, that hour is noon - meaning getting lunch somewhere might be tricky each week. But this time it worked fairly well, since I managed to both get my food and find a place to eat without much trouble and with plenty of time to get to my final class. My third and final class of the day is in the building that houses the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. So, take a minute and imagine all the beautiful, expensive technology this building has. When you walk into the south entrance, the entire southern section of the hallway is filled with millions of dollars worth of computers, scanners, printers, projectors, wifi, and other lovely things used to teach, learn, and design. My classroom should rock, right? Not right. My room is this teeny, tiny room that's situated in the farthest corner from the entrance, next to nothing, and is angled on a diagonal. It has just enough seats and desks for exactly 21 people - which is good, since my class is supposed to have 20 in it, plus me. As for technology? Well... it has a dry erase board... and an overhead projector anchored to the wall so it can only move about 3 feet away, which isn't actually far enough to show anything large on the pull-down screen. As for the screen, if I pull it down, I seem to be wholly incapable of pulling it back up. But that's it. No projection system, no computer, no nothing.

Anyway, this class has one kid from Hong Kong, and only 12 others actually showed up. So I'm missing around 7 students, assuming they didn't drop. There's one kid in this class, as in the last, who is already sending out major "I hate being here and I'm going to assume you're stupid" vibes with their body language and facial expressions. I've got some pretty vocal girls in this last class, though, so I'm hoping that they'll be ones I can count on to keep things moving if and when discussions lag.

Overall, it was an interesting day. I had to go request some *real* technology for my third classroom. I told each class that being here and teaching them is my passion, and that this class is the area of history I love the best. I also told them I'd let them know when my exams are scheduled so they'll have a head's up for when I'm going to be incommunicado. And I asked them to give me 50 minutes of their week, and to give me their best, since I'll be giving them my best. Hopefully they'll come through. I have faith!

I'm always on a bit of a high after teaching, though it didn't last very long. I had woke up feeling sick, and by the time I fiddled with paperwork back in my office and drove home, I was getting a major migraine. Unfortunately, it lasted the entire afternoon/evening, and even with medicine I woke up at 2, 4, and 6:30 and finally just had to get up because my joints were throbbing so much (a side effect from my triptan). As a result, I've been in migraine fog the rest of the day, and my mood plummeted along with it. I've done nothing productive other than cook. Of course, I also haven't had any human contact since I left my office yesterday, which doesn't help when I feel awful.

Here's to hoping this next week is better. I have to face my advisor and talk finally about scheduling my exams... and I am not looking forward to that at all. I just don't know...

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