Tales from the Classroom: My First Day

Posted on July 18, 2004 @ 9:33 pm

With school out for the summer and new teaching anecdotes few and far between, I haven’t added to my compendium of Tales from the Classroom for the past few months. Looking back at the archive, however, I realized that I somehow forgot to write about my first day as a teacher along the way. So, without further ado…

It was August 1999, and I had just moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, to start working on my MA in political science at Virginia Tech. The department had scheduled a brief orientation for the incoming graduate assistants a few days before classes began. At the orientation, our graduate coordinator started out by discussing our duties as graduate assistants at the university, explaining that most of us would spend our time grading exams, photocopying, picking up books from the library, and so forth. The only assistants who would have any teaching duties would be those working for Dr. So-and-So in the introductory world politics class. At that point, the coordinator began to pass around the TA assignments. Naturally, I was assigned to Dr. So-and-So. A few hours later, I was handed a textbook and told to be ready to teach from it on the following Monday — a mere four days later.

It’s worth noting that I had never taught a class in my life, and I had no training beyond the university’s lame two-hour “So you want to be a teacher?” workshop. I was 22 years old, and just four months earlier, I had been an undergraduate myself. Now, I had a weekend to prepare to teach a room full of undergraduates in a course that I realistically could have been taking myself just a semester earlier.

Anyway, I toiled throughout the weekend to prepare, going so far as to literally script out word-for-word in my lesson plan everything I would say during that first 50-minute class (including “spontaneous” off-the-cuff remarks). I asked my advisor if he had any tips for a first-time teacher. The best he could muster was, “Be sure to go to the bathroom before your class, and make sure that your fly is zipped before you step in front of the class.” Words of wisdom, no doubt, but not exactly what I needed.

Eventually, Monday rolled around and it was time to teach my first class. Before I taught, however, I had to attend my statistics seminar, which met on the far side of campus from my classroom — about a ten-minute walk away. As I sat listening to my statistics professor lecture, I became more and more anxious about my first class. After what seemed like an eternity, the fifty minutes elapsed, and I was ready to walk across campus and meet my students for the first time.

Well, not “walk” so much as “wade.”

As I daydreamed through my statistics class, what had started off as a beautiful late-summer morn had transformed into an absolute downpour. Naturally, I hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella with me (nor had any of my classmates), so I was faced with a dilemma. It was a ten-minute walk to my classroom. Class started in ten minutes. I could: A) wait around to see if it stopped raining and be late to class; B) not show up to class; or C) go ahead and strike out across campus, rain be damned.

Since showing up late — or not at all — seemed like starting off on the wrong foot, I chose Option C.

I began to trudge through the mud and rain toward my class, getting positively soaked to the bone as I did so. By the time I arrived at my classroom (on time!), I was a mess. As I wrote my lecture notes on the chalkboard, I could hear water literally squishing out from my once-stylish dress shoes. When I moved, my wet clothes clinged to my body (and not in a particularly sexy way). Even better, the water dripping from my hair kept smudging my lecture notes, leaving them barely legible. Meanwhile, my students (most of whom had just left their dorms a few minutes earlier and brought along an umbrella) just stared at me, doing their best not to giggle.

And that’s how I taught my first day of class: soaking wet. By the time I finished fifty minutes later, there was literally a puddle of water where I had stood at the front of the classroom.

So, for anyone out there planning a career in education, allow me to share these bits of advice: go to the bathroom before your class, make sure that your fly is zipped, and always carry an umbrella. You’ll be glad you did.

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom |

4 comments so far...

  1. Thunderbyrd July 18, 2004 11:28 pm

    ROFL!!! That is the funniest thing I’ve read in years! It also reminded me of when I had 1/2 day (in my 2nd semester [of my first year!] of University) to answer the question, “Would you like to be a T.A. for the COBOL and FORTRAN classes you aced in your first term? It pays $13.00 per hour.”

    This was in 1980, when $13.00 an hour was a wage that was to snapped up, no matter if you were prepared or not. I said, “Sure!”

    I had a blast. I couldn’t believe that I was doing what I always did naturally (helping out my classmates in the computer lab), and getting paid for it. It was a great time.

    It only lasted one semester, but it was a great gig.

  2. John July 19, 2004 7:53 am

    Well, at VT anyway it’s always a good idea to have an umbrella around. There’s a reason it’s called “Bleaksburg.”

  3. amber July 19, 2004 8:35 am

    It’s a year off for me, still, but I will remember that advice :)

  4. Jess July 21, 2004 9:14 am

    Thunderbyrd: Glad to hear that you enjoyed the story. :)

    John: If I recall correctly, it was later that day that I first heard the name “Bleaksburg” — in reference to my soaking-wet classroom debut, of course.

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