Teaching is hard! It’s a worthwhile vocation, absolutely, and watching students grow and learn can be a deeply joyful experience. That just doesn’t mean it’s easy, and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy all the time.
I’ve been out of the classroom for a few years, and as I prepare to return to teaching next year, I keep thinking about how much less scary it is to be returning than it was step into a classroom for the first time. I also keep thinking about the sense of community that carried me through that first year, even when things got tough.
It was a huge blessing that during my first year of teaching I had weekly meetings and a shared office space with other instructors going through the same things. We taught the same material, experienced the same big firsts, and talked about it all as it happened. Being in community made me feel the isolation of the front of the classroom less strongly and reassured me that my teaching highs were worth celebrating and my teaching lows were not the end of the world. I’m still working on how to keep that community going as I look forward to a new job and a new office, but I’m also excited to announce, on behalf of the Graduate Fellows at the Academy for Teaching and Learning, a new event meant to help foster the kind of community I so cherished when I was first starting out.
My colleagues and I are thrilled to invite you to the first meeting of Teachers of Record Anonymous (TORAnon)! Here are some nitty-gritty details: It will be held on Wednesday, March 23, at 2:30 pm in the Visualization Studio of the Graduate Research Center between Moody and Jones Libraries. There will be light refreshments. We’ll have some reflection questions to help us along the way, but mostly we’ll be sharing our classroom experiences together with other graduate student instructors.
While any event with refreshments is a good one in my book, what we’re most excited about is the opportunity to build community with other people engaged in the hard, joyful, frustrating, exhilarating work of teaching. We’re especially excited to be working toward community for those of you – of us – who still are or feel new to teaching.
All TORs are invited, but first year TORs are doubly invited. We’re all teachers and we remember what that first year feels like! When I was where you are, I needed to know that it was pretty normal to get halfway through my first semester and realize I hated one or more of my syllabus policies. I needed to know that plenty of students overshare on their own, and that it didn’t mean I was too “soft” or too young or too feminine. I needed to know that it was normal to find giving grades stressful but that with practice it wouldn’t feel so paralyzing. I needed to know that it was normal to try things my own teachers had done and find that they were not for me, that sometimes discussion questions flop, and that it was ok to plan my classroom around the kinds of activities and teaching strategies that fit me instead of trying to plan my classes like I was someone else.
If you, too, need those kinds of reminders from time to time, come hang out with us! We’re all in this together, and we want you to have a safe space to talk about the things in your class that went better than you thought they would, worse than you thought they would, or just . . . weirder than you thought they would. It can be easy to feel like because you’re the only one in your classroom, you’re on your own. But on your own, it’s also easier to feel like your successes are small and your less-than-successes are big. It’s easy to think about yourself in the context of all your own best and worst teachers and to forget the context you’re actually in: learning something new and balancing new teaching with all the other new things of graduate school. That’s an objectively difficult thing, and you’re doing it anyway! Take some time to reflect, talk to some other TORs, and listen, and we think and hope you’ll find that you’re doing just fine.
Aubrey Morris is a PhD candidate in the English Department and a Graduate Fellow at the Academy for Teaching and Learning. Her dissertation focuses on the medieval humor of Geoffrey Chaucer.