Who Let ME Be a Professor?

Easy-to-do science is what those in physics, chemistry, geology, and some other fields do.  Hard-to-do science is what the social scientists do and, in particular, it is what we educational researchers do.  We do our science under conditions that physical scientists find intolerable.  We face particular problems and must deal with local conditions that limit generalizations and theory building–problems that are different from those faced by the easier-to-do sciences.
 —David Berliner (2002)

Respect the skills.

(No seriously, respect the skills. Have you ever tried to teach–not lecture– for three hours straight not knowing how your lesson plan was going to be received by 18 college students who may or may not be in your class because it’s a requirement for the major/minor?)

I don’t know where to start, so I will do what I encourage my students to do: start with what I know.

What I know is that being a professor–a newly 27 year old, Black, female professor with an afro–at a small, 73% White, liberal arts college in a conservative city is and is not where I envisioned myself eight years ago. Eight years ago (please notice the APA formatting adherence) I was a junior at Dartmouth College toying with the idea of doing an honors thesis in my major of psychology. That idea arose from a spectacular class sophomore year with Professor Abigail Baird (now at Vassar) whom for the first time in my life made me feel like (and here come the educational phrases) ‘an active participant’ in a ‘learning community’. What does that mean? As Dr. W it means that I was engaged, encouraged to construct my own knowledge, and comfortable sharing personal stories in a class with 34 other judgmental college students. As a 19 year old, it just meant I looked forward to class.

Abby taught me that teaching wasn’t about content knowledge, but rather the relationships with your students. She honored our perspectives, contextualized our experiences, and made everything relevant to the life of an Ivy League college student circa 2004.  She made learning easy. More importantly, she mad teaching look easy.

So what I knew:

  • Teaching can be easy
  • Teacher-student relationships can facilitate or impede learning
  • A good teacher, no matter the educational level or discipline, makes you want to go to class
  • I could be like Abby

What I’ve learned after 1 year of being a college professor:

  • Teaching is easy when you are adequately prepared for each class session
  • Teaching is exhausting no matter how well prepared you are
  • Teaching is not about you; it’s about the students
  • It’s harder than I thought to engage students
  • Google is a great resource for brainstorming new courses
  • Students do recognize and appreciate the effort put into lesson planning
  • I am a constructivistic-humanistic teacher operating within the confines of sociocultural theory
  • I am good at what I do
  • I fall in love with every class
  • I could not have chosen a better career for myself

What I will do in my classroom:

  • Continue to review readings and assignments to ensure they are relevant, current, and well rounded
  • Do my best to ask other professors for their syllabi, their assignments, their assessment methods, and their pedagogical practices
  • Continue to utilize course evaluations to guide future course design
  • Do better knowing my students outside of class
  • Capitalize on my students’ knowledge and skills by using them as ‘experts’
  • Continue to spend hours designing activities that take 20 minutes because those are what students say they like best
  • Thank my students for allowing me the opportunity to facilitate their learning, to think beyond themselves, and to maybe, just maaaaybe be their Abigail Baird

3 comments on “Who Let ME Be a Professor?

  1. Meredith McGinnis says:

    I discovered your blog today, and I’m really glad I did. I’m 21 and still in my undergrad years in history and education, but I’ve seriously enjoyed reading your posts about academic life, education reform and your personal reflections. In some ways, it’s like I’m reading my own damn journal, but in others, like reading one from a seasoned and wise friend. If you had a target audience in mind for this blog, I’m pretty sure I’m in it, so I’ll just say mission accomplished. I think you’re smart, balanced, and inspiring. Oh, and you should also know that opening a comment back in August with “Dude, i’m not an economist” was fully appreciated by someone. I laughed for a solid 5.
    So, thanks for the contribution to my learning- as one liberal, humanist, constructivist female to another. I’ve only made it to this post so far, but i’m excited to skim the rest.

    • Thank you for reading, Meredith! I am glad you are finding my rambling at least a bit useful. Keeping this blog has been extremely helpful in my processing of my experiences as a professor thus far. It’s also a good outlet for all the pent up thought and emotions I have in response to educational occurrences. I would like to invite you to write a guest blog–about anything you’d like. I have been offering this up to people but no one has taken me up yet. Happy reading, and please continue to post when you feel so inspired 🙂

      • Meredith McGinnis says:

        Yeah, I’d like that. Let me put some time and thought into something and i’ll get back to you within the week!

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