Humor from both sides of the desk
Published: Saturday, August 26th, 2006
Although I have been away from the classroom for many years, I still tend to become a little excited when school begins because some of the best years of my life were spent on one side of the desk or the other. During the years I taught on campus, I dreaded the coming of fall because that meant I would have to head south, but the minute I would leave town, I would begin to anticipate the coming year and the opportunity to meet new students and to greet many former ones. During that six-hour drive, I would plan opening remarks for various classes and would hope I would be able to reach some of the students one more time. Because I never felt that I had enough knowledge, I would spend much of that time wondering how I could face those first classes without breaking and running. By the time I would turn into my driveway, I would have gained some self-control and had found the courage to enter the classrooms. Seeing rooms filled with students was always a shock as I entered each one for the first time in the semester. We would all stare at each other and wonder just what the next few months would hold. Freshman classes were the easiest to meet because many of those students were even more nervous than I as they were just embarking on their college careers. They would be trying to hide their feelings by pretending they were very grown up and were not suffering from homesickness. We would chat for a while until we would begin to relax, and then I would explain a little about the syllabus before making the first assignment. We'd leave on our way to the next classes wondering what had happened and what might happen next. Facing the upper-classmen was more of a strain because I knew how hard I'd have to work to keep up with them, much less ahead of them. Fortunately, I would usually know several of those students from other years and would focus on them until all of us would begin to relax. We'd also chat for a few minutes before getting down to serious business and the demands to be met for those classes. Although each syllabus was fairly simple to read, theirs would have much longer assignments than did the one for the freshmen. Moans and groans would be heard as they counted the number of books they would have to read and the number of examinations they would be taking. Sometimes, the less brave would drop classes at once and make it easier for all of us, but most of the time even the loudest groaners would remain to suffer through the semester. Once we all settled into our routines, the real fun of teaching and learning would begin, and even the groaners would find that they could have a good time while learning something they never wanted to learn in the first place. They found that laughter from both sides of the desk would make the hours pass rapidly and were often surprised that they had learned something important from the humor. They also learned early on that they were welcome in my office and should show up there if they needed help. Their first visits usually began with tension on their part, but when they were handed cookies and something to drink, they would relax and begin to talk. Yes, I will always miss those wonderful students and the thrill of teaching and learning, but I surely don't miss the politics. I still read with the idea of wishing I could share some of those words with young people, but I am well aware that my time in the classroom is over and that I was most fortunate to have taught when I did. What fun I had.
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