Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Back to School Time: Survival Tips

Welcome Back
In the Pacific Northwest the academic year begins later than on the east coast. The story goes that farm families wouldn't let their children begin the year until the apple harvest was done. I love the idea that the academic calendar needed to negotiate with the farmers and therefore the seasons. And today, with rain in the morning and a sunny but cool afternoon, it seems time to settle in.

So many of my students are new to the college this quarter. They sit in class and give little away by their expressions. Engagement and boredom look much the same on the young adult face. Today I had three encounters with students that gave me a little more insight into where they are coming from and slowly we begin to see each other as fellow human beings rather than only in our roles as students or teacher. At least that's my hope.

"What do you believe" is the first assignment for English 101. So far I've learned that certain students believe in bicycles and cell phones; others are more partial to drum sets and dogs.
Every quarter we move from strangers to a strange kind of extended family. I look forward to knowing them all much better over the weeks to come.

Here Are Some of My Tips for Survival

1. Smile as much as possible.  It sounds silly but it works better to say "I can't talk to you right now because I need to teach this class" with a smile on my face. The message is the same but the sting is not.

2. Be forgiving, be fair.  As someone who teaches about 75-100 students per quarter, I am constantly trying to balance these two concepts. If I allow one student to hand in a paper late how is that fair to the student who didn't have the self confidence to ask the same question? It's easy to forgive one slip but is it fair to reward sloppy behavior? I see no black and white here, just questions that always need to be answered.

3. The first week is all about first impressions. Be your best self. Psychologists say we form 93% of our impression of someone on a first meeting. Actually, in the first few minutes of that first meeting. It's crucial that we all do our best to be gracious and kind this first week.

4. Be gentle with yourself. This first week is an onslaught to the senses. Where is my class? When is this first assignment due? How will I ever do all that's expected of me? These questions plague students and professors. And yet, December will arrive, We will make it through.

5. Sleep, exercise, food. I've returned to my yoga practice, started going to bed earlier and cutting out foods that do my body no good. Studies all agree that these are crucial elements for a healthy life. The practices I put in place now should help when things get even more intense with papers and mid-terms.

6. Remember, this is a cool job! Monday I taught my creative writing students William Stafford's, "You Reading This, Be Ready" with the wonderful line, "Are you waiting for time to show you some better thoughts?" There are moments  in many of my days where I can't believe how wonderful a job it is to share poetry and film, essays and stories with students from around the world.

1 comment:

  1. I love that Stafford poem, Susan. What a great way to start the semester.

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