A Teacher Goes Back To School: A Vignette

studioredchileA Teacher Goes Back To School: A Vignette

by Kay Bisaillon, Teacher (& Student)

As many of you know, I have embarked on a new adventure this year. I have cut back my hours at work and registered for classes to continue my education. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity in my life. Last week was my first week of classes. It was fun, rewarding, exhausting, and stressful all rolled into one.

Role Call

I am taking a broad variety of classes. They are at a variety of times and even located on two separate campuses. One of my classes is in the evening.  It is a bit closer to home and it is an easy drive, with easy parking, and a teacher who is truly a joy. Her positive, charming energy makes me want to be a better student and a better teacher.

We have a relatively small class size. She takes attendance for each class and expects us to be present to learn. It is her classroom and her rules and I am cool with that expectation. Interestingly enough, my other professors are a mix of attendance taking and “your choice to show up and learn” approach. I appreciate and respect the different approaches.

No Faculty Parking for Me

My next few classes are on the main campus and bit further away from home. Traffic is painful and parking is even worse! I accidentally entered the Faculty/Staff parking garage first, because, let’s be honest, I still think of myself that way. Once a teacher always a teacher, I guess.

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There were plenty of vacant spots in that garage. I wanted to say to the parking attendant, “Come on…I’m an old lady. Can’t we just agree that I can park here?” But, it wasn’t going to happen so I soon found myself weaving through the lanes of the “Commuter Parking Garage,” slowly stalking anyone who had keys out and looked like they were leaving. Success! I found a spot and lugged my bag, purse, coffee, phone, and what felt like my kitchen sink across campus to my morning class.

I wasn’t as early as I had hoped, due to the parking escapades, and when I entered the 300+ person lecture hall, I quickly realized finding a seat near the end of any row was not going to happen. I am not a small girl and getting down the rows involved a few of those, “Excuse me…excuse me…excuse me’s” you do in movie theaters. The space allotted was small and tight. I sat down and proceed to unpack all of my “stuff”.

I unfolded the “micro-tray” that is supposed to serve as a desk, adjusted my bag, got out my notebook and pen, checked my phone to make sure it was on vibrate, and went to take a sip of my very full, and by this time, much needed Skinny Vanilla latte….and yup!…it happened. Care to guess what the old lady returning to school, who had been trying to “fly beneath the radar” in her classes did? She knocked over her entire cup of coffee, loudly and with gusto!

Coffee sprayed all over the young man next to me. A puddle formed quickly, then began flowing like a river down the rows in front of me. I saw young men and women picking up book bags and purses to avoid the “coffee pond” forming at their feet. I sat stunned. After about 30 seconds of disbelief, I realized I couldn’t ignore it like I really wanted. I had no choice, I had to take action. I got up, did a few more quick, “excuse me, excuse me, excuse me’s” and dashed to the bathroom for as many paper towels as I could carry.

I returned to the lecture hall and realized all those around me had scattered like rats from a sinking ship. As the professor explained the syllabus, upcoming exams, expectations, and classroom etiquette, I tried to casually wipe the floor and dab the carpet of my morning java. I am happy to report, based on the standards of that first morning class,my next classes were hugely successful as I did not spill anything in the classroom or splatter my classmates with coffee.

My Take-Aways From This Week

There were many things I loved about seeing the classroom from a student’s perspective. There were a few things that definitely came into focus this week.

1. Students can tell if you are teaching the material or teaching students

As my daughter, a sophomore at an out-of-town university, and I discussed this week, it is clearly obvious when teachers love what they do. Make no mistake, students can tell the difference between a teacher who is merely presenting subject material and one that is reaching out to teach the students. I feel very comfortable in saying the professors I have this semester fall into the latter category.

2. Learning spaces matter

I realized I have become spoiled with the amount of space available to me in a classroom. As a teacher, I am used to spreading my materials all over a large desk, moving around at will, and enjoying the most comfortable chair in the room. The student’s domain, especially in a large lecture hall, is quite small. It is the equivalent of an airline seat and tray crammed in coach class. It is tough to get comfortable and hard to stay focused when confined to such a small space.

3. Students have so much stuff!

On my first day of classes at the main campus, I realized teachers and students both have an enormous amount of “stuff”….big, heavy, stuff. I know because I hauled my “stuff” all over campus.

4. Many students are terrified when you say…”Turn to your neighbor and…”

Sometimes you just want to sit quietly and take notes. There I said it…I’m ashamed to admit it but it is true. The moment the words are spoken, “Turn to your left and discuss…” You immediately start analyzing the situation. Who is next to me? How much should we talk? Do I need to carry the conversation? It is an anxious moment for even the most confident student. As the student, you wish you could sit there quietly. As the educator, I know this practice is to engage the students and create deeper learning. Guess what? It works.

5. A small kindness can go a very long way

As I cleaned up the coffee (pond) spill, my professor never batted an eye or missed a step in his lecture. I know he saw me. I believe that he knew it was awkward for me and made a decision to ignore it. It would have been easy for him to make a joke or discuss why not to bring beverages into the lecture hall. I am grateful for this simple decision.

Do not underestimate the power of a kind word, a sharpened pencil, a smile, or in this case, the decision to not mention the mess in the hall. These simple acts from a teacher can change a day, a week or a school year.

6. A spill proof travel mug is worth the money

Enough said.

Everybody WangChung Tonight

It is exciting for me to be the student and to do the work and “own” my learning in these courses. As I drove home on what I affectionately refer to as “coffee spill day,” I listened to 80’s radio and jammed to Wang Chung and Milli Vanilli while pretending I was going home to watch General Hospital or even lay out in the backyard with baby oil and iodine (a terrible idea, by the way).

The truth is those type of college days are far behind me, and I’m glad they are. I am a much better student and because of so many amazing life experiences, a much better person.

Now, excuse me, I have to run. I have readings, assignments, quizzes and tests ahead of me and I love it!

A Teacher Goes Back To School: A Vignette; Image attribution flickr user studioredchile