17 January, 2011

On Finding a Balance

Tomorrow morning, I'll meet my new crop of students. This is always a little nerve-wracking. I try to pretend that I don't need them to like me. I try to pretend that I'm the hardassed teacher I always thought I'd be. Like the one who dragged me kicking and screaming through a minor in graphics, who once walked away from me when I got upset, saying she'd come back and help me when I was "less emotional." Even before I started teaching, I knew that I'd be tough but fair. That I'd enforce strict rules and never accept excuses. That a late paper would be considered late no matter what, and absences would not be tolerated. I turned out to be full of crap.

Unless I decide to pursue a PhD, odds are good that this will be my last semester teaching. That thought makes me unexpectedly sad. It also makes me realize that I have one last semester to find that balance between buddy and authoritarian that will make my students respect me enough to do the work and like me enough to enjoy it.

I can see improvement in my classroom demeanor over the course of the last three semesters. The first semester, I got walked on a significant amount of the time. Students got higher grades than they deserved, and I ended up drowning in a sea of late papers, which I graded without complaint. That has been changing slowly, and at this point I feel confident enough in my authority (a word I have to resist the urge to pronounce Cartman-style) to enforce my own rules.

The problem is that I myself have a problem with authority. Always have. And, probably, always will. I've never liked being told what to do, or how, and I guess that aversion has carried over to my teaching. After all, if I don't like it, why should my students? The answer to that question is that they may not like it but they do need it. I needed it too.

Every semester, I tell myself that this time, I will be that stern but fair teacher in my head. The one that students don't really like, per se, but who they have to grudgingly admit taught them something. I'm no longer convinced that I am or should be that kind of teacher, as much as I admired her when I took her class. But I also know that if I want to give any serious consideration to teaching as a career choice, I have to find that balance between maternal nurturer (a thing I would have sworn I emphatically was not before becoming a GA) and drill sergeant.

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