It feels unfathomable that I am approaching my third year of teaching. The past two years have come and gone in a blink, even if some days or weeks felt as though they carried on forever. I can still feel the sense of worry and stress that filled my body when I learned that my first semester of teaching would take place via Blackboard Collaborate (similar to Zoom).
On one early August morning in 2020, I sat at at my desk in the corner of my one-bedroom apartment, flicked on my lamp, and logged on to my laptop. It was not even eight in the morning, and I was about to tackle my first time teaching–truly alone. There was no one in the room with me. I could not walk down a hallway to ask for help if something went wrong. There were no familiar faces to smile at before class. It was only me. I remember my heart pounding beforehand–and most likely during–although the memory of what happened is a blur now.
At 10 in the morning, after teaching two classes, I logged off my laptop, flicked off my lamp, and walked over to sit on my couch. That was it. I survived my first day of teaching. I kicked off the shoes that I put on truly for show. I put on shoes for every virtual class I taught, despite my students only every seeing me from the shoulders up. I suppose it helped me feel more “professional.” (Yes, my red converse that complemented the red flowers on my shirt added to my professionalism.) Regardless of the circumstances surrounding that semester, I learned a lot about myself. I spent a semester speaking to black screens, and some days it felt as though I was talking to myself. Yet, the last day of class was bittersweet. Since everything was remote, I went home early for Thanksgiving and taught from my childhood bedroom. I thanked my students, turned off the camera, and fought back a few tears. Growing up, I was always emotional on the last day of school. Being an instructor was no exception to this.
Each new teaching modality and group of students has felt like a brand new experience. My second semester involved a rotational model, where I taught in person everyday, but my students were divided into groups with designated days to attend in person. This afforded me the joy of meeting some of the students I had worked with for an entire semester; I could finally put a face to name. Moreover, I never could have realized how helpful it was to see students’ faces during lessons. Rather than speaking to black screens, I could see their eyes–masks were still required at this point. Their eyebrows would bunch in confusion or their heads would nod at understanding. This made teaching feel more human; more like what I had always imagined teaching would feel like. Of course, the technical mishaps that accompanied this format were frustrating. Additionally, learning how to navigate not only students in person for the first time but also students simultaneously online brought forth its own challenges. I had to learn how to navigate both groups in a collaborative way. Some activities were more successful than others, but that stands true for every class. I assume this remains, even for those who have been teaching for decades, especially when every student and class atmosphere is different.
The conclusion of my second semester of teaching–May 2021–also wrapped up my master’s program. I spent that summer relaxing and wondering what modality I would teach through in the fall. Starting at a new university, I wanted to begin with fully in-person classes more than anything. I wanted to see my students’ faces and have better collaboration. I did not want students to feel excluded or ignored because they were online. As much as I tried to include everyone, it was difficult at times to make sure all students–both in person and online–were clear on everything. Much to my excitement, towards the end of the summer, I learned I would be teaching in person! I was overjoyed that I could teach all my students together–face-to-face. Finally, it felt like I was going to be teaching in the way I had been picturing up until a year and a half prior; the “normal” or “traditional” way.
Having all my students in the classroom at once opened possibilities of collaboration that were simply not possible via a mixed group of modalities. Group work, class discussions, and lessons in general became much easier. A new school and new students led to more challenges, but I felt that I could better connect with students when we were in the same place. After two semesters of teaching in person, it was clearer than ever that teaching in person is the most fulfilling for me. It is rewarding to see my students collaborating, asking questions, and offering their thoughts during discussions.
While the numerous modalities has, at times, made me feel that I have been teaching longer than I have, I know that I am still early in my journey of teaching. I am still learning what lesson plans work best for me. I am trying new assignments and activities. I highly value student feedback. Throughout the past two years, something that has truly flourished has been my adaptability. Each class, I find myself asking, “What do my students need right now?” Sometimes the answer to this question involves scrapping my entire plan for the day and coming up with something on the fly. Sometimes they need a work day. Sometimes they need me to repeat a lesson from the previous class. Wherever the day goes, I always lead with my students in mind. Though my expectations for teaching have changed, something that has remained consistent from the beginning is that I want to help my students. I want students to feel comfortable asking questions or coming to me with concerns. I ask several time during each class if students have questions and if everything is making sense. I by no means have all the answers. I am open with students about looking up information. As I explain in my teaching philosophy, I am there to offer support and guide them into finding their own voice.
As another semester approaches, I look forward to an opportunity to connect with and learn from another group of students.