Saturday, August 22, 2015

Getting Called Up to the Bigs, Or, Leveling Up

75º ~ at the tail end of a 40-minute thunderstorm, featuring three massive lightning strikes and three flickerings of the electricity, along with lots of cloud-rumbling and sky-flashing

After months of anticipation, and five days of orientations and meetings, the first days of teaching at the University of Central Arkansas arrived for me Thursday and Friday. On Thursday, I had my Introduction to College Writing students. The majority of these students are recent high school graduates, and part of my first day discussion included a comparison / contrast of high school and college.

I've had this conversation with many classes over the years, and the analogy I always use is one from baseball (Go Cubs!). I announce to my classes that the move from high school to college is like being called up from the minor leagues to the majors (also know as the big leagues). For those who aren't into baseball, I extend the discussion to include moving from college ball to the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLS, NWSL, etc. Finally, for those who aren't into sports but might be into gaming, we talk about leveling up.

We talk about how the freedoms and responsibilities grow with the promotion and how the physical environment changes as well. I address specifically how my role as their professor is different from the role of their high school teacher. I also point out that faculty have a lot of jobs outside the classroom and office hours. This is a shocker for many of them who are used to their teacher being in one room all day.

In the end, my goal is to be crystal clear about my responsibilities and theirs. I promise to come to class with passion & enthusiasm every day, to present them with the material they need to tackle the course skill set, to give clear directions and specific expectations about assignments, to be available to help them as needed, to treat each of them fairly and consistently, and to assess and return their work in a timely manner. I then outline their responsibilities and the fact that students in my classes don't "get" grades; they earn them. This is not the most entertaining day of the semester for the class, but it is crucial to starting off on the right foot.

On Friday, when I switched to my Introduction to Creative Writing students, I didn't have to hit this topic as hard, given that the class is 2000-level course. However, on Friday afternoon, with teaching completed for the day, it struck me that I am experiencing a similar shift in dynamics to that which my first-year students are experiencing.

I, too, have been called up. In my case, I've been called up from a non-tenure track job at a community college** to a tenure track job at a four-year comprehensive university. At heart, the tasks are the same, but everything is "bigger" now, and not just the campus. I'm having to learn a new physical environment, yes, but I'm also learning a new relationship environment as well. I'd been at PTC for 10 years. I was a seasoned veteran with all the confidence and exhaustion that entails. At UCA, I'm a rookie, and I need to navigate a whole new set of people and responsibilities. I need some time to figure out who everybody is and what role they play. I need some time to figure out what is expected, specifically, of me and what role I want to play within my department, my college, and the university as a whole.

As these first few weeks unfold, I'm going to try and be mindful that the stress I might feel as I set off on this new level mirrors the stress my first-years will be feeling. Hopefully, this will help me be a better professor along the way.

I'm also going to be mindful that my writing is taking a hit at the moment, and that's okay, for now (but only for now). Give me two weeks to work out the kinks in my schedule and I'll be back with my BIC (butt in chair) doing the work of drafting.

**I want to make clear that I don't think those folks working in community colleges are "minor" in any way. I know how much talent they have and how much effort it takes. My analogy extends more to the infrastructure around and outside of the classroom. Also, most community colleges are first-and second-year institutions. At UCA, I'll be teaching upper-level classes in a creative writing major and graduate students in an MFA program. That will be another adjustment.


Tawalbert said...

So, the storm of anticipation has flexed and rumbled on, the infield tarp has been re-rolled to its usual place, the students are back in their rain-spattered seats, the air is cooler, and now Longhorn digs in at the plate.

Great post, Sandy. We miss you.
-Tim Walbert

Sandy Longhorn said...

Great comment, Tim. I'm pretty sure you have a secret creative writing degree hidden in your desk drawer somewhere.

Miss you folks, too.

John Vanderslice said...

We're so happy to have you, Sandy. You may be a first-timer, but you are a major leaguer for sure. Pretty soon you'll be striking all of us out! Yuck, yuck. Seriously, welcome.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, John, for the encouragement and for the humor. Both are much appreciated.

Kristin said...

Wonderful insights--I hope you continue to post these kinds of observations of what it means to move from community college to school with an MFA program. Thanks for the vicarious experiences!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kristin. I will try!

Karen J. Weyant said...

Thanks for the support for community colleges! As for those Cubs...they are sneaking up on my Pirates! :)

Sandy Longhorn said...

You're welcome, Karen. The NLC has amazing teams this year...the first year in a decade that the Cubs are any good, and the NLC is filled with other stellar teams. And so it goes.