A little help from my friends

The semester is about to begin again, and my teaching skills feel rusty. It’s been nearly 10 months since I taught a course. And while I loved every moment of my precious sabbatical and all the new research I got done started, I’m nervous that I’ve forgotten how to teach. 

As usual, at this time of year, I am both massively over-prepared (I’ve been redecorating my course websites for a week) and woefully underprepared (where are those course rosters, anyway?)

But today I was reminded that the joy of teaching/learning at a liberal arts college is that classes are really just rooms full of people who get together to help each other out. All the worry about “being prepared” goes away the minute I step into the room and meet the students. Then, it’s all about learning to connect with them. Helping them over their fear of me (will I be an ogre professor, bent on failing everyone? They don’t know.) Helping them understand why this course might be valuable to them, how it might fit into or, better still, transform their understanding of the world. Helping them (sometimes) understand why this course may not be the best choice for them right now.


Why do I hear this word so rarely in relation to teaching? 

And I hear it even more rarely in relation to students. Because the real truth is that the students help me as much as I help them. They help me discover what matters, and how to teach it to them. Concepts that I labor for hours to get into prose emerge from seminar discussions in minutes sometimes. Learning happens in the room because–if I listen closely–the students teach me to teach.

They teach me to teach. 

And sometimes, in the best of all moments, they teach each other, and skip me–the unnecessary middle man. 

So, here’s to another semester, beginning againing. And here’s to relearning how to teach a whole new group of folks, so we can all unlearn our fears of each other and discover how to help each other open ourselves to the possibility of new learning.

Gosh, I love my job.




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