My First Teaching Year: A Manifesto

(Inspired by Danah Hashem and, indirectly, Susan G. Barber)

In a bit more than three weeks, I will be teaching my own class for the first time. I’ve observed, I’ve co-taught, I’ve taught lessons and given talks in other teachers’ classrooms; this will be the first time I am responsible for the teaching of an entire class, from start to finish. While simultaneously working on my own PhD. I am, of course, both incredibly excited and completely terrified. I like to think I’m a bit more of the former than the latter, but I suppose we’ll see.

This manifesto will outline my intentions for the year. I hope to look back at it periodically throughout the semester, both to keep myself on track and to see where I need to change.

 

I will remember and respect my students’ humanity

It is too easy, as a teacher, to see your students only as students. It is your job to guide them toward course goals and objectives, and to evaluate their progress, and these tasks can be engrossing enough to overwhelm your perception of the student as an individual. I will strive to remember that these students are each complex individuals with responsibilities, concerns, obligations, and priorities outside of my classroom. I will do my best to understand their needs, and to allow for reasonable accommodations whenever possible. I will be patient, empathetic, and considerate.

I will remember and respect my own humanity

I’m probably going to mess up. Every lesson will not be perfect, every student will not be deeply changed for the better as a result of my class. It’s ok. I am not the first, or the last, teacher they will ever have. If we have a bad day, maybe the next one will be better. I am allowed to screw up. What matters is that I acknowledge it, learn from it, and keep trying.

I will express passion

One thing all of my favorite teachers have had in common is an obvious and genuine love for their discipline. Whether a literature teacher getting riled up about a poem or a biology teacher describing the beauty of a cheek cell under a microscope, when a teacher is truly passionate about the subject they teach, it shows. I love what I do; I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do than help people learn how to express themselves more easily and effectively through writing. I want so much to hear what they have to say and to help them find the words to say it. As a teacher, I will make sure my students know that. I will never suppress joy or excitement about my field, and instead will share it at every possible opportunity.

I will be honest; with my students, my advisors, my classmates, and myself

There will be times I am confused, frustrated, overwhelmed, tired, or just plain wrong. I will always readily admit to students when I am wrong, and I will be transparent about my struggles. I will use those moments to model for them ways to right the ship when you’ve somehow veered off course, and how to manage tasks that just seem too difficult. I will also be honest with those around me–especially my professors, advisors, and fellow grad students–when I need help. I will not fear sounding stupid, falling behind, or being unworthy of my place in the program. You can only learn what you admit you do not know. Remember this, self.

I will value this moment in my life

I will be busy this year. I will feel a deep sense of obligation to my students and to my professors, as well as to every person who had supported me and believes that I can succeed in this program. But I will also remember that this is my life. This is not a thing to endure so I can go on to do what I REALLY want to do; this is it. This is the work. While I will be focused on and dedicated to completing my PhD, I will also remember that this part of my life is as important as any other; my health and happiness now is as important as at any other time. My relationships are important. My personal growth is important. I will make time for these things, and will treat them with respect.

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