Back to School (College Edition)

This month marks the start of my thirteenth year of teaching college (and the start of my sixth year teaching English at Columbia Basin College). It’s always a bittersweet time of year – my sadness at summer’s end is tempered by my excitement to get back into the classroom. Even after inhabiting this career for so long, there are still things that surprise and delight me as each school year starts.

I’m always surprised by my first-day jitters. I never sleep well the night before the first day of classes, and I’m usually up long before dawn. I still plan out my first-day-of-school outfit, just like I did when I was a student. Facing a new class of new students is scary – since the majority of the classes I teach at CBC are required for the degree, it means that very few of my students are in my classroom on their own volition, so when I stand in front of my students, it is often a hostile (to varying degrees) and captive audience. That first day of classes, I consciously have to steady my hands and my voice, to make eye contact and project that confident-professor aura.

But I’m not the only one who is nervous on that first day – without fail, in each class I teach, I have at least one student come up to me at the end of class to tell me some variation of “I’m not a good writer.” One year a student – a Navy veteran – told me on the first day that he had felt more comfortable in Darfur than he did in my classroom. So we’re all jittery – we’re all worried about how we’ll perform, all worried about letting each other down.

Fortunately, it gets better. I’ve been teaching long enough to know that there are delights in store – my students will settle in, and they always surprise me with their dedication and enthusiasm. These are the things I know I can expect: the student who came up to me on the first day to tell me that he/she is a bad writer will gain confidence in his/her skills and become a better writer. I will lose between two and five students from each class due to apathy (including lack of attendance). Most of my students will laugh (with varying degrees of authenticity) at my lame professor jokes. I will get behind on grading, for which my students will forgive me. Many students will do better (and a few will do worse) than they expected on their first essay, but nearly all of them will improve as the quarter goes on. And even though now I’m slightly dreaded the end of the unstructured days of summer, I know that when the quarter ends, I will be sad to see my students go, and that sadness is a blessing.

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Tamara Holloway

Tamara Holloway

Teacher, writer, knitter, pun-hater. I would be a professional smartass if I could, but since the government is loath to support the arts, I have to do my smartassing as a freelancer. I have a Ph.D. in English from the University of Oregon – if you want to know about Tennyson, the Duke of Wellington, and Queen Victoria, I’m your gal. I enjoy educating young(ish) minds and correcting their grammar, and occasionally I write stuff.

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  • Suzy Garza Higley

    You captured it so perfectly! I would love to be a fly on the wall on your classroom. I miss school. I didn’t appreciate it the way I would now! 🙂