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Never Forget Why You Started

SIGH!… Deep breath!… Roll your eyes, pop in some Altoids, plaster on a a smile that is as close to genuine as possible, and remind yourself that today is another opportunity to make a positive impact on those impressionable  college youth that have come to learn. Over and over again you repeat to yourself, “Falling down is OK, staying down is not and option  and you carry on”.


How it begins

We all have that thing that we love to do, even when deep down inside we are not sure why.  We do know that we cannot live without it. It is equivalent to being hooked on a drug, except it has a positive outcome and you get to keep all your teeth. That is what teaching college students feels like to me. If you are lucky you will get at least one section of students that are actually there for themselves, to learn, to grow and not as a prerequisite to keep mamma from kicking them out of the house.

While you hope you will get this

What you really get is more like

Here is what I have learned about being a college professor so far:

  1. I know measurably less than I ever considered:  I was severely under-prepared in the area of communication, mostly because I am only a novice at speaking millennial.
  2. I’m not nearly as flexible as I thought I was: When I grabbed that shiny graduate degree, I was ready to be an academic #bosss (click for dance break)  I laugh to myself as I type this, because it is the kind of thing that you say to yourself and never admit the hubris you feel, publicly.
  3. People almost never respond the way you think they will:  I had all these grand designs, all these inventive ways I would change the face of learning! #fail
  4. Being liked and being respected are not mutually exclusive:  At first you try being a hard ass, then you try being the cool young professor, in the end it’s really a blend of both that will help you get the job done.
  5. Don’t be afraid to watch your students fail themselves: I kept assuming that if they failed it would somehow be my fault.  The truth is  mostly all they are good at so far is manipulation and avoiding responsibility.  It’s the leftover “nurturing” from high school. Just make sure they know how to be successful and stand back.

What you have to remember is,

College has a way of making you feel like the world will open up and lay itself at your feet. Once you complete your rigorous curriculum, you feel entitled to select the job that fits you best, demand decent pay, and most importantly they are lucky to have you! In reality, you have completed the bare minimum for someone to hire you.  If you are lucky you don’t have to go to work armed, and in my case, you can find a car that is cheap enough to afford, big enough to ride in for more than thirty minutes, and nice enough that security doesn’t think you are a students and give you a citation for not having the parking pass.

I can totally do this

Don’t think that any of what I have said applies to everyone, but in most cases all professors experience some version of this. I do still believe teaching is rewarding, I am doing my best. I do not feel bad ,by any measure, for taking the wrapper off one of my dreams and finding that it is nothing like I expected.  Eventually, I will be able to mold this dream into something that goes far beyond what I initially imagined.

Also published on Medium.