Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Rules for New Teachers

Or, "Rules for Short, Young Looking Teachers." Coming, of course, from exactly one week of teaching experience.

Rule #1: Use the Fear They Came With

After months of going back and forth between what my students should call me, I decided to go with my first name for several reasons:
1. My personal pedagogy really does dictate it.
2. They are more scared than I am
3. Since they are more scared than I am, one more barrier isn't necessary.
Thus, Rhetorical it is.
The school system has already sufficiently pounded them into submission, so use that natural fear if you have first time teacher concerns. Sure, it may go against your personal feminist philosophy, but damn, it sure helps you get through that first week! (Besides, being called "Ms. Twist" made my insides curl...)

Rule #2: Get a Killer Outfit

If you are scared out of your mind about teaching, you need The Killer Outfit. Put your well honed visual rhetoric skills to work: gray dress slacks, a black button down shirt, heels, and pearls (not real pearls, mind you, but they get the job done). This creates "instant teacher," otherwise known as: "I am older than you, despite external signifiers that may indicate otherwise." There is something super official sounding about high heels clicking on those wooden floors. To complete the persona, perfect the jingle of keys in your hands that indicates, "I have an office," and the stride. To maximize the official sounding click from those high heels, you have to get the pacing right. It can't be too hurried, nor too leisurely. It has to be just right and clearly convey, "I've got heels on. Fear me 'cause I'm all kinds of official."

Rule #3: Learn the Proper Facial Expressions

No matter how huge that silence is in your class, never let the very casual, "I've done this SO many times before" look come off your your face. This can be really difficult if you walk into class 10 minutes early to set up and they are completely silent, just STARING at you, even after saying, "you guys can keep chatting you know." Silence. "Or not." It will be the 10 bloody longest minutes of your life, but don't break.

Rule #4: Lie your ass off

For the nervous first time teacher, a few well placed indicators that you've taught before, or you're older than you look, can be helpful. Practice phrases such as these:
~"I had a student once..."
~"When I was an undergrad (of course, that was back in the day)..."
~"I've been studying English longer than I care to admit"
~"I'm going to try something that I haven't previously attempted in my other classes..."

Yeah, you are lying, but it does make you giggle a little on the inside.


Jennifer said...

Did you actually use those phrases? Oh, I'm so proud of you!

But, for obvious reasons, I'm concerned about this rule regarding not walking too fast. . .

Teacher Poet said...

Oh, yes. Walking too fast actually can be intimidating. Especially when you have serious intent of purpose written all over your face. And quick wit, too! My first several hall observations of the above totally scared me. Seriously.

Of course, then I actually met her and she's been a source of inspiration and encouragement. But for the first couple days...why not be fearsome-like? :-P

Rhetorical Twist said...

Jennifer--yes, yes I have used each and every one of these phrases. The "back in the day" comment was regarding cafeteria food. As in, one of the students was complaining that the food was bad, and so I said, "well, when I was an undergrad, it was *horrible*. Of course, that was back in the day so things might have changed..." :-p

Jennifer said...

Ooh! Ooh! We ought to have a pool on when the first time a student admits to Rhetorical Twist that at first she/he was totally intimidated by her will be! ;-)

Rhetorical Twist said...

Haha! I'm not *mean* or anything. I laugh a lot and make funny faces :-p But hopefully they were just intimidated enough to take me seriously. That's all I wanted! I didn't want to be like that *other* prof who scared everyone into not being able to talk!

DocHoc said...

Hello, can I third the "intimidation by walking fast with a face of extreme intent"?

I believe I once knew a Prof. who did that...mm hmm...intimidated the crap out of me...

...until I realized she was a teddy bear:D

ms lynch said...

Allow me to offer these.

For silences:
"I know you're there; I can hear you breathing."
"I'll endure 10 seconds of embarrassing silence."
"Did I stumble into detention hall?

For asserting your authority when looking-young:
"Back when I was a ...... (fill in the blank with previous gigs."
I have also told them I'm sixty and look really good for my age. It gets chuckles.
Of course, admitting one is young is not as bad as it seems. Trust me.

As for using the fear they came with: I like to mingle it with my own fears. A walk down memory lane:
"You know, I'm in grad school right now, and some of the work just terrifies me...."
"You know, I'm writing my dissertation, and one more draft might kill me...."
"The first time I (fill it with reference to skill or assignment they are working on..."

Best of luck!
Prf. Coffee Beans