To be clear, not everything I learned related directly to English. Some of it was about teaching, and even life in general.
What did I learn? Here is my personal top 10.
Number 10: It takes longer to prep for a class than to teach it.
It should only take me about 75 minutes to prepare for a class that runs 75 minutes, right? Nope! I use PowerPoints, short videos, images, and examples when I teach. Each of these takes time to create. The challenge is to make sure I’m teaching the concepts in a way in which the students can actually learn. How long does a lesson take to prepare? Depending on the topic, several hours.
Number 9: The students who sit in the back aren’t the worst students—most of the time.
I remember being told that the best students are those who sit on the front row. That isn’t always the case. Personally, I like to sit in the back because I’m tall and have good vision. And I’m something of an introvert. Some of my best students sat on the back row. But to be fair, almost all of my worst student sat in the back.
Number 8: Teaching can be heartbreaking.
I couldn’t help but get to know many of my students on a personal level from reading their work. One of the big assignments in ENG 111 is to write a personal narrative. Time and again, I was surprised, shocked, and dismayed at many of the events my students had endured. From abusive parents / spouses / boyfriends or girlfriends, to coming to America and having to learn English as a second language, to serious medical conditions (and the list goes on), I grew a new appreciation for overcoming challenges.
Number 7: English, as a language, is pretty confusing.
They’re, Their, and There? When to use whom instead of who? How to explain to a person where English is not their first language when it is appropriate to use “had had” in a sentence. (Example: I had had better days.) What is the difference between affect and effect? Frankly, some of these are downright perplexing! Oh, and by the way, here is a tip for using whom instead of who: replace the word with “he” and “him.” If “him” sounds better, use “whom.” (See how both end with the letter “m”?)
Number 6: College teachers spend more time working outside of class than in—by a lot!
The vast majority of the time in a college class, I’m teaching. It isn’t me just talking the whole time, sometimes we do other learning activities. But grading papers, creating lectures and assignments? These are all done outside of the classroom.
Number 5: Some students simply do not care.
One of the biggest surprises was encountering students who just didn’t care about the class or learning the material. These are those who would sleep through class, or read books while I am lecturing, and (more often than not) turn in poor work, if they turned it in at all. I only had a few students like this over the last year—but it was common enough to indicate it wasn’t as rare as I would have imagined.
Number 4: Doing the basics makes a huge difference.
At the start of each semester, I give my students the four keys to doing well in a college class. These are: 1. Do ALL of the assignments. 2. Do all of the assignments ON TIME. 3. Do all of the assignments on time AND TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITY. 4. Do any EXTRA CREDIT the teacher offers. Most of the students who dropped or failed my classes couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do the first basic rule.
Number 3: Most people procrastinate.
For my classes, almost all of the assignments are submitted online through a program called Blackboard. The deadline for the assignments is 11:59 PM on the assigned day. When a student submits an assignment through the computer, it displays when the assignment was turned in. More than half of my students turned in papers within the final hours before it is due—even when they have had days, and sometimes weeks, to work on it.
Number 2: Good writing takes time.
I already knew this, somewhat, yet it was reinforced this last year. Writing is a process. The papers written for my class went through several stages: prewriting (getting ideas), research, creating an outline, writing a rough draft, doing peer reviews, re-writing the paper based on the feedback, submitting the next draft to a tutoring service (either online or on campus), re-writing the paper again, and then submitting it for the final grade. Those students who did this process earned a good grade. Those who waited until the last minute? Not so much.
Number 1: Teaching is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.
I’m not saying that my other jobs in retail, TV, and banking didn’t have their perks, but they don’t come close to teaching. Sure, the money isn’t as good. Yet, it is an amazing experience to watch a student grow and apply what they have learned. My primary goal is to help them learn how to learn. That is a skill they will use throughout their lives. When a student tells me, “Mr. Morgan, I’ve never liked English before. But now, I’m getting it. I can see why it is important and how I can use it in my major”—that is a feeling that is 100 times better than being told I was the top sales manager or that our snow coverage set a ratings record.