Monday, August 26, 2013

It's Annie in Akron's First Day.

Today's my first day.

I taught as a TA in grad school. I even taught at a high school very briefly. I understand what standing in front of a room is.

I'm not afraid I don't know anything. I'm not worried about my clothes or my accent or food in my teeth.

But I am afraid. And I'm sick. I've been up since 3 am throwing up. I didn't sleep a wink the last two nights.

I'm going to be a college professor in about three hours for the first time. And I'm afraid I've made a mistake with my career. My cohort of grad school buddies tell horror stories of ill-mannered students, lecherous colleagues, and a system that doesn't work. I'm afraid a student will challenge my authority, stand up and face me down. I'm afraid I might get flustered, bothered. I'm afraid I might faint.

Why have I done this?

I'm watching the clock and it's racing.


  1. You'll be fine. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that because it's true. Twelve years ago I was in your position - just out of grad school, teaching full time for the first time. And I was just as sick as you with anxiety. Today is my first day too and I'm still nervous. But with time, it gets easier.

    You cannot possibly anticipate everything that will pop up and you'll only make yourself miserable trying. My mantra has always been "one day at a time". That's what you have to do. Just focus on getting through the day in front of you. The rest will come.

    I found that the time leading up to the first class is by far the worst. So know that it will get better. You can do this.

  2. And, BTW, I've been teaching for 24 years, and I *still* get the flop sweats on each and every first-class-meeting. It's cool. It's normal. It is indicative of your humaness and distance from sociopathy.

  3. 1. Remember that the students are just as nervous about the first day of school.
    2. Do not tell your eager students that, "This is your first time teaching this class." That will give them an incentive to make you miserable.
    3. Lie to them, if necessary. Telling a class, "Thank you for all the great e-mails asking questions about the homework." even if there weren't any, is permissible.
    4. Never let them see you sweat. If technology doesn't work or there is a mishap, have an alternative lesson plan ready to go. If you don't know an answer to a question, tell them, "I will have to get back to you on that." Do you homework and report back to them in the next class session.
    5. You don't have to like it, but you have to act like you like it. This goes for both you and your students. A positive attitude and a sunny disposition go a long way.
    Best of luck! You will love it! (eventually)

    1. #2 is especially important. When I was new to teaching, I would do exactly the opposite: emphasize that you've been doing this for a while. NEVER say that this is your first class, or you're new on the job, or whatever. How you frame your experience dictates how much they think they can get away with.

      Though I used to be pretty condescending of them, now I oftentimes do dumb icebreaker activities on the first day, at least in discussion-based classes. They kind of make you feel like a silly babysitter, but it also takes their focus off of you and onto the stupid activity.

  4. I remember my first FT teaching gig. I sat in my office and thought that they must have made a mistake hiring ME, as I was clearly not ready to do this. But I survived. Yes, all those bad things you worry about are out there, they will not likely all happen to you on the first day. Also, people tell horror stories because they are interesting and dramatic. It is much more interesting for me to tell the story of the kid who told me to F*ck off when I asked him to put away his cell phone than it is for me to talk about how Suzy is an ace a APA style. After 15 years I still get nervous before the first day too, you are in good company!

  5. And if you have an issue with a surly student, kick hir out. At least that's something I can keep up my sleeve.

    I've been around for 11 years and I get the same panic/excitement every time. It's the going into the unknown bunch of kiddos that does it. Every class has a different overall personality.

  6. Oh God it always feels like I'm going to pass out the first week, and I, like others here, have been doing it forever.

    Guaranteed you're going to make it, Annie. Guaranteed you're going to chuckle about it in a couple of weeks. Guaranteed you know more about that any student you're ever going to have.

    Try to breathe and just have fun. Sometimes when I'm super-tense, I imagine I'm a reporter and I have to keep track of all the things that happen, all the things that are said, and all the things that are done. I just pay attention in a kind of third-person way. "The new instructor shows the students the textbook. The new instructor is already feeling better."

    GOOD LUCK! Check in tomorrow with us!

  7. The day I don't get nervous walking to the first meeting of a new class is the day I'll get a new career. I would suggest, as difficult as it is, you walk in the room as if you own the place. When something goes wrong, as it always does, dismiss it and move on.

    I once did the first day meet and greet at a uni where I had been a student. I took a seat on the left side, half way from the front, as that was where I had sat for three terms. That really made me feel unworthy as it didn't seem that long ago I was the student in the same course.

  8. Buck up, Annie. I'm in the same boat. After you get through the first day/week, you'll feel much better.

    Good luck!

  9. I spent the first week of my teaching career sitting on the desk because my legs were too shaky to stand.

    Now, I don't get nervous on Day 1 anymore unless it's in a new setting or at a new school. But it took about 15 years to get to the point where I felt confident rather than nervous.

  10. I make my first day all about the subject; no chit-chat. You may be nervous, but they are terrified (although this varies with the subject and level of the class.)

    By concentrating on the Hamsterology you love, you place yourself on safe ground--you know this backwards and forwards, and they're clueless about it--and let them become very aware of the distance. Hence, no challenges. Although I did get someone to say, a few years ago, on the first day:

    You're scaring us, dude!

    It was a perfect moment.

  11. I have to agree with Peter K. I teach a full class in Hamster Care the first day, albeit with introductions and a tour of the syllabus, but I find concentrating on the material you know helps you feel more confident...

    Though I still feel nervous before the first class.

  12. Annie writes:

    I can't thank you all enough for the encouragement. And to Fab and Calico who sent me emails! (I met Cal once at an MLA and think he's a brilliant writer.)

    In my first class I found myself looking at a young girl in the back row who looked as nervous as I felt. I spoke right to her, covered the few items I wanted to cover, and then let them loose until Wednesday. It took 21 minutes!!!! I laughed at myself when it was over.

    In my next class I felt better, went the full hour, and left campus for the day feeling like a REAL LIFE PROFESSOR!

    I can't wait for tomorrow!!!

    Much love,

  13. Just remember--no matter how incompetent you feel, you know more about the subject matter than they do.
    And it's a helluva lot of fun to share it with them.

  14. You can do it, Annie. Kick ass! And don't worry about your 'authority'. No, I mean, seriously - don't worry about it. It's like chum in the water. Kidding! Sort of. Seriously, though, you got this. Be cool, have fun with it. Let them see what got you excited about the subject in the first place.

  15. Also remember - there are going to be some students in the class who are just as excited about the subject as you are. Find them and nurture them. They can change the dynamic in the room, and keep you sane. Glad your first day went well!

  16. Rock on Annie!!!! When I first started, I was just a couple years older than most of my students, and younger than a few. So, I wore a blazer. It was like my armour - I felt more confident. I still wear a jacket or blazer. Plus, I like having pockets.

    Have a great semester!!

  17. Annie, I am sorry I missed this thread. I am glad you had a successful first day and I wish you many more wonderful days on the job!