First Day of School, Ready or Not

by Tabitha Kidwell

Tomorrow, I begin my second year of doctoral studies. As usually is the case on the last official day of summer vacation, I have a mix of emotions.

For one, I’m nervous – I’ll be teaching an undergrad class for the first time at UMD. I taught undergraduate English education majors in Indonesia, but I was able to capitalize on the fact that I was the foreign teacher, which meant that people were more likely to trust me (thanks to my status as a representative of the U.S. education system) and also forgive any mistakes I made (thanks to my status as a sometimes-clueless outsider). Now, I’m teaching undergraduates who are paying a lot of tuition for a good education. During most of the time I spent planning last week, I felt like I was about to puke. That is okay, though, because that’s is how I usually feel when preparing for a year of teaching. Most years, I can’t sleep the night before the first day of school, and that will probably be the case again tonight.

I’m also really excited – I haven’t actually taught for the past two years. 2013 was the first year that I hadn’t gone back to school – as either a teacher or a student – since I was 4 years old, and it was so hard to watch everyone else go back while I had nothing to do but shop for ugly Chirstmas sweaters. In 2014 I did go back to school, as a student, but I was so overwhelmed by the start of graduate school that I didn’t have a moment to lament the fact that I wasn’t teaching. This year, I am so glad to be back in the classroom, planning instruction, building relationships with students, and generally being of use to society. I’m teaching a class called “Teaching English Language Learners Reading and Writing in the Secondary Content Areas,” a course name I pretty much have to look up every time because the powers-that-be at UMD are trying to fit so many buzzwords into one course title. The course’s goal is to help future teachers teach reading and writing more effectively to their English language learning students, but it’s an elective class. Some students are secondary education majors (math ed, science ed, etc.) who know they will have students learning English in their future classrooms, and some are TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) minors who will go on to get an M.Ed. in our program and teach at local schools. But a lot are just taking it as an elective to fulfill their diversity requirement. My guess is that some of those students think they might go abroad and teach English for a year or two after graduation, but most of them just think a class in the college of education will be easy. Which is probably true.

Overall, though, my main emotion is relief. I am so glad that the first year of grad school is over and I have a freaking clue what is going on this year. Last year was really hard, but I grew a lot as a scholar and as a person. It is so great to look at the syllabi for the two classes I am taking and have a basic background and understanding of what we’ll be studying. For my third class, I’m doing an independent study with my advisor, working on developing a literature review I wrote last year into a publishable paper; part of my graduate assistantship is also being her research assistant on some other projects. It’s wonderful to have that good relationship and to be working together on topics I really care about. I also have a healthy amount of extra-curricular involvement, thanks to my ongoing inability to say no: I’m the student rep on the faculty department assembly (which is basically like getting invited into the teacher’s lounge – exciting in principle, but ultimately really mundane), I’m the co-chair of the department graduate student association (which mostly involves planning happy hours), and I’m the graduate student interest section co-chair for Maryland TESOL (which is really exciting because we are hosting the international conference in Baltimore this year). Also, personally, I am so grateful to feel at ease in the city, to have a good network of friends, and to know where I can buy good donuts.

Overall, I think this year will be easier than last, or at least I’m better equipped to deal with the challenges that come up (e.g., impossible reading load, compulsive need to nap). I only have to go out to campus for class Mondays and Wednesdays, and I have a better idea of how to manage my time and workload on the other days. Teaching will be a lot of work, but I think I’ll really enjoy it. It’s amazing what a big difference a few months can make – by the end of spring semester, I felt like I couldn’t do even one more thing for school. Now, I feel ready for a whole new year – or at least I will if I can get through teaching my first class without puking!

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