Ruth Randall’s Column

• Ruth Randall Remembers the Start of Her Teaching Career: 

I knew exactly what it was to be a good teacher.  Good teachers have high expectations for all their students, they have clear objectives, they are prepared and organized, they engage their students, they are able to help their students look at issues from new perspectives, they show their students they care, and, of course, they are masters of their subject matter.  These are the things I knew before I walked into the classroom for the first time.  You can imagine my surprise when my students weren’t as thrilled to be in composition as I was to be teaching them.  I had prepared for class like a good teacher, and I had practiced my delivery many times.  For that first 50-minute session, I had 12 minutes assigned for introductions (30 seconds x 24 students).  I would take 10 minutes going over the syllabus, leaving 5 minutes for clarifications and questions.  I thought I would spend the next 10 minutes looking through the textbooks, explaining the importance of reading the assignments, and the next 8 minutes reading from the first chapter.  That left 5 minutes for me to talk about the next classroom assignment and to give them my expectations for the quality of work I expected.
I know all of you are laughing because, of course, we all know that students have very different timetables.  The introductions were more than twice my time allotment since I had asked them for more information than their names!  Less than half the students had textbooks, so I saved time on that portion of my plan.  After the introductions one student asked, “You won’t keep us here the entire class period today, will you?” As those who had more than a pencil shoved textbooks into their backpacks five minutes before the end of the class, I continued talking over the shuffle of papers.
As the classroom emptied and the next class filtered in, I picked up my well organized handouts and dejectedly walked out.  When my husband came home that evening, I greeted him with the announcement that I was a horrible teacher. I had visions of students writing on Rate My Professor, “Don’t ever take this teacher.  She does not know what she’s doing.”  The sad part of that was that I considered writing it myself.
By the end of that first semester, I did not consider myself a good teacher, but I didn’t give up, and I actually had a few students who told me they learned something.  I’m not sure they defined what that “something” was, but I felt hope for the next semester.
I continued teaching, and each semester brought me closer to the feeling that I was a good teacher; however, the definition of a good teacher changed.  I learned that I have to respect that not everyone has a passion for prepositional phrases or objects of infinitive phrases.  I learned that there are no original excuses for being absent.  I learned that when you have extra saliva drip onto the overhead projector, it’s magnified on the screen.  But the most important thing I learned is that if you’re passionate about your subject matter and you genuinely care for the students, they will consider you a good teacher and even share that on Rate My Professor.
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