Life as a teacher isn't always easy for the sometimes-less-than-confident among us. If you are a worrier by nature (who, moi?), your students always give you something to second-guess or fret over. Was I clear enough when I explained double object pronouns? If they fail the test is it their fault or mine? Could I have done more, taught better? Do they respect me as a teacher? And, (at the risk of coming off too Michael-Scott-in-the-office-ish) do they like me? I mean, of course they like me - right??? And, while in most situations you never have to know what your co-workers and/or subordinates think about you (or say about you behind your back), when you teach at the college level your students are encouraged to fill out evaluations of your performance, answering all of these questions and more. With the shield of anonymity to hide behind, these can be a brutal assessment of your performance, and depending on the student in question's current grade in the class, sometimes devolve into a no-holds-barred grudge match.
Three years ago, I finished my first semester as a grad student and teaching assistant in Boston. It was the first time I had taught at the college level, and the first time I had taught French at all, actually. I had done my very best: planning lessons that I hoped would be interesting and fun, teaching four days a week, meeting with my students for extra help outside of class, and all the while doing all the work of a full-time student for three of my own classes. I struggled, I was sleep-deprived, and I spent the entire end of the semester wanting to rip out my ponytail by the roots, but I did it. By god, I really did it. And so it was in this frame of mind that I opened my first set of course evaluations, and read comments like:
"The instructor did not have answers readily available for common questions."
"Occasionally a bit vague."
"Gets overwhelmed easily, nervous too."
"Sometimes gets flustered under pressure."
"Great fashion! I want to go shopping with her. :)"
I mean, that one made me smile, and I'm sure my supervisors were duly impressed by my "fashion," but couldn't she have at least mentioned my teaching? (On second thought, it's probably a good thing she didn't.)
Things have smoothed themselves out a bit over the years, and as I finished my first semester teaching at Mythaca College a couple months ago, I realized how much more comfortable I felt in front of the class now. It was even--dear god, was it?--a little bit fun. The biggest change that I noticed in myself was that I finally learned to Calm The Fuck Down. Speak slowly. Enunciate. Repeat. Pause. Ask for questions. A question you can't answer? No worries. Don't turn red. Say, "That's a good question." Don't get flustered and start talking too fast. Say, "Let's think about that." Or, "Let's look that up." Or, for god's sake, just say "I don't know." (Why are New Jersey and New Hampshire le New Jersey and le New Hampshire, but New Mexico is le Nouveau Méxique? And for that matter, why is le Méxique masculine even though every single other country ending with an e is feminine? I don't know. I don't know, ok??? And stop asking me questions. Or better yet--it's to fuck with you. Yeah. Every single time something in French doesn't make sense, it's just to fuck with you. Yes, you specifically. Ok? Now let's move on.)
And so, what with the Calming The Fuck Down and the new found spirit of joy and fun I found myself discovering every day even within the minutiae of French grammar, I had the impression that my first semester had gone pretty well. But would the students agree? And thus it was with more than a little trepidation that I found myself ripping open my course evaluations to find comments like these:
"Rachel Why = fabulous. Very intelligent, good handle on the material and the needs of the students. Very endearing demeanor, enthusiastic, fun to listen to."
"I very much enjoyed the course. Keep on rockin'."
"I really think Rachel is the best French professor I have ever had. She has a great accent and every time we learn something new it feels natural. I can't really explain it but it works really well for me and I dig it."
"I really enjoyed having Rachel as an instructor. I've really enjoyed being in her class and can say that it was one of the most fun classes I've ever had."
One of the most fun classes s/he has ever had, people. In a course teaching the proper use of reflexive verbs and indirect object pronouns. I know, I don't get it either. But it does make me a little bit giddy.
And you know, I don't usually toot my own horn, and normally I probably wouldn't post something like this, but with Valentine's Day coming up and once again having absolutely no hope for flowers, or chocolate, or the feeling of being special and/or cared about by someone, or by anyone, anyone at all--wait, where was I? Oh, right. Anyway, with that in mind I decided to brush modesty aside in favor of self love and the tooting of my own horn. Which, coincidentally enough, also happen to be my plans for Valentine's Day. If you know what I mean.
So, if you have already found your special someone, then I wish you a halfway decent Valentine's Day full of mediocre pleasures. (Sorry, but that's the best this hardened heart can do.) And if you're single like me--then happy horn tooting, everybody.