I have been neglecting this blog recently (along with things like dishes, vacuuming, and laundry) because I have been prepping for two new classes that I am going to be teaching, starting on Tuesday of next week.  It’s a really intense process, and in the interest of giving my brain a little break, I’m going to tell you guys all about it.  *smile*

A secret that not everyone knows is, people who teach at the college level often get absolutely NO training in how to teach.  If you want to teach in an elementary, middle, or high school, you have to go through a certain amount of training before they let you loose on young, impressionable minds.  It may be as simple as an emergency teaching certification, or it may be a full master’s degree in education, but someone tells you how to teach.  In order to teach at the college level, you just need to have studied your specific subject long enough and hard enough to get either a master’s degree or a PhD in that specific subject, and then they hand you a textbook and throw you in front of a class.  And you are expected, I assume from all those long years of sitting in desks, to have absorbed the most effective ways to teach the subject that you have studied all those years.

Thank goodness I’m not in that boat.  This will not be the first time I am teaching a class, or coming up with lesson plans.  I had a total of three months’ training in lesson planning and teaching techniques when I was in the Peace Corps.  We even had a 2-week Model School, where top-level English students from around the capital volunteered to come in during their summer break and get extra lessons from us.  We worked in teams, and put together sequences of 3-4 lessons covering topics like describing people, or buying things at the store.  We were even observed and critiqued by local teachers and other PCVs, which was extremely helpful.  And before leaving for my permanent village site, I was provided with a stack of books outlining exercises that could be used with my students, mostly at the intermediate-to-advanced level.  And then I walked into a classroom with 35 students in it who could only say, “Hello,” “My name is…,” and “F#ck you” in English.  And they only knew what 2 out of the 3 phrases actually meant.

In that situation, I had complete freedom.  I had already convinced the director of my school (aka principal) to let me teach my own curriculum, one that would be heavy on speaking and listening comprehension, instead of the reading-and-writing heavy Soviet textbooks they were still using (and obviously didn’t understand).  I talked to other volunteers and got ideas for lots of games I could use in the classroom.  And I had one set of beginner textbooks that I could take exercises out of, or else write my own, for the students to copy into their notebooks and then complete in class.  It worked pretty well, and I think my students benefitted from my teaching.

A few years later, when I was in grad school, I was a TA.  It was a way for me to support myself while going to school, since TAs got their tuition waived, plus a stipend that was enough to live on.  But it also taught me about some of the behind-the-scenes mechanics of teaching a college class, and maybe this is the kind of “training” college teachers are expected to have.  I had to attend the teacher’s class and take notes, do all of the grading and gradekeeping for students, write study guides to be handed out prior to the exam, run review sessions for students, and actually write exam questions.  Pretty much everything but lecturing was covered.

So when I took a job teaching a class at a community college a few years after finishing my degree, on top of working full-time as an archaeologist, it seemed like I had everything pretty well figured out.  The textbooks for the class were already chosen, so I followed the chapters in the main text, picked out articles from the secondary text that seemed to fit with the weekly theme, assigned regular written homework, and figured out where to stick in a midterm and an exam.  I figured I was done at this point, since I could prep for my lectures each week before class, which wouldn’t be hard, and everything would be fine.

It was a disaster.  First off, all the classes I had TAed were 300-level courses with a heavy writing component, designed for majors.  Here, I was teaching a 100-level Intro to Cultural Anthropology class to people who were taking it as an elective because they wanted to travel through Europe someday and thought it might come in handy.  I followed the template I had used before, which meant I gave them too much homework and the tests were too hard — I had to add a 15-point curve to the first exam, and even then half the class dropped out.  Literally.  Not to mention, I would spend a few hours scanning through the text and writing out overheads the night before the class, and then I’d just read through the information like a zombie.  I didn’t explain things well, provide examples, have class discussions, or really do much of anything to keep the class engaged.  Towards the end of the semester I woke up and asked questions and made connections in class, and I eased off on the final exam.  But by then it was too late.  The semester was over, and despite the distance learning folks wanting to have me teach a class in the fall, the class was cancelled due to low enrollment and I never got a chance to redeem myself.

Now I am teaching two different classes that I have no background in, at a professional college, mostly teaching adult or returning students.  I am expected to be engaging, do a lot of group work and interactive exercises, even have a guest speaker and do a field trip (one of each!) for every class.  Oh, and did I mention each class is 4 hours long?  It’s intimidating.

To make things a little worse, there are fully-developed syllabi and lesson plans for each class, but when I talk to other teachers, they come up with completely different, creative ideas for running their classes.  The person I keep being referred to taught 5th grade for years before working in business and then finally coming to this school to teach business classes, so she has a million tricks up her sleeve that just come naturally to her.  Honestly, most days I don’t feel creative enough to meet the challenge.  At least by being a substitute for several different classes in the weeks leading up to my own, I have picked up a few things, like the fact that many of the exams are open-book.

So I have been working for a few weeks now, going through the textbooks, syllabi and lesson plans, finding additional materials online, and trying to figure out what I will do during each class during the term.  As of 2 minutes before I started writing this post, I have a full outline for each class.  I have each lesson outlined, but I still need to put together specific materials for most of the lessons, like PowerPoint slides, or materials for some of the exercises, or just printing and photocopying some of the prepared exercises.  Most of those I think I can do a day or two before class.  I have the dates for all the assignments worked out, including homework, term papers, and exams, but I haven’t figured out my grading rubric yet — should homework be worth 10% of their final grade, or 15%?  And I still need to turn these outlines into syllabi that I can hand the students on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, and turn in to my boss.

It seems like too much, especially knowing how much work there still is to be done for each individual class session before I can walk into the classroom and feel fully prepared.  But I keep one shining thought in the front of my mind at all times, and it seems to help: If I get this class right the first time, I can follow this lesson plan for years to come.

And that makes the lazy teacher in me feel much better.