This is the second part of Teacherpants takes a big step, which is a reply to a Daily Prompt question about an important step that I’ve taken. My response is about my first official teaching experience. As I explained in Part I, things did not look promising at the beginning.
Fast forward a few years. Somehow this dedicated non-scholar has been accepted into grad school. I am excited about the program and happy with the income the TAship will bring (Wow! Five figures!). I ask around: “So we just hand back the assignments and then leave?” “Umm no — it actually means you’ll be teaching for those four hours.” Four hours? but it’s too late to give the money back, so here I am at the front of a class, York University’s Shakespeare 100, to be exact.
Over the years, the crystal structure gets smaller until it almost disappears. It’s not that I have no anxieties about teaching, but this particular moment becomes less and less of an ordeal.
(I’m going to switch metaphors here.) Eventually something happens that’s analogous to what happens with swimmers: at first the journey between the diving board and the pool is a frightening one, but to the good swimmer, the pool itself becomes a place of safety. At so many times in my life when battles have raged, both personal and otherwise, the classroom has been the place where I have felt most sheltered. “Within these four walls,” I tell myself, “the range of possible events is limited. I may not always be in total control, but all the conceivable permutations of this class are things that I can accept.”
I was teaching at Overland on the morning of September 11, 2001. I remember deciding with my class to turn off the TVs and return to the lesson, not because TOEFL reading strategies were more important than what was going on outside, but because the only thing we could do was continue doing what we were doing. There was a certain comfort in knowing that Question 8 came after Question 9, and that even if the answer was B and not C, the mistake would not cause the world to explode — pretty meagre comfort, to be sure, but it was the only comfort available at the time.