My first month of real teaching

I leave Diablo Valley College each Tuesday and Thursday exhausted but on the equivalent of a mental high. Teaching two Introduction to Business sections back-to-back is a full body+mind workout that I’ve never experienced before.

My classroom

I’m three weeks in with thirteen more to go until the end of the semester. I’ve learned a few things, but before I go into that, let me provide some context.

I described why I wanted to teach at DVC in a previous post. I still believe all of it. My heart is 100% still in this. I love the community college atmosphere, the type of students I teach, and the subject itself. My first two semesters were, like so many educators, a shallow pit of Zoom office hours and online quizzes. It was fine but not particularly rewarding. I did all that work upfront and merely shepherded the course along as the weeks went by. I didn’t feel like I was teaching. I was just the facilitator.

When the Business Administration Department asked me to teach the only two in-person sections of Introduction to Business, a course that every business student needs to take, I eagerly accepted. This would be my moment! I could finally don my elbow-patched tweed blazer, smoke my pipe, and wax poetical before a chalkboard in front of enamored students.

So, late last year, I chose my textbook and began to imagine how my lectures would go. My sections would be Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30am and 11am. Each is 80 minutes. I wanted to believe I could give an enchanting lecture every time, peppered with tails of my business experience, maybe incorporating something interesting and current from MightySignal and Airnow. Thinking back on my favorite lectures at UC Berkeley, I admired most the professors who could riff on current events and tie them back to the reading.

I’ve been trying, desperately, to be that professor. I’m not sure I’m doing it right, but I do think I’m getting better.

So, let’s get back to what I’ve learned.

Authenticity is rewarded

I play Grateful Dead at the start of each class.

I always get to class early, and since I use my own laptop for some slides and other multimedia, I figured I should play music the way it’s played at a concert venue before the opening act.

I chose Grateful Dead because it’s calming (for me, at least) and unique. When I first started doing this a student in each of my sections called me out.

“Is that the Grateful Dead?” they asked.

“Yup,” I said.

They nodded in quiet appreciation. I’d like to think they’ll enjoy the class better now.

I also am quick to say when I’m not sure about an economic or business concept. It’s not easy to riff on the news and relate it to the reading. Sometimes I talk myself into a corner, make a mental note and admit my confusion, and Google it as soon as I get home. I’m learning new things this way.

I can actually feel myself getting a lot smarter. My own learning is driven by being curious, exploring the chapter concepts, and trying to teach it by drawing connections to current events. Sometimes it works better than others, but when I get it wrong, I recognize that’s an opportunity for me to learn too.

It’s good, and I believe my students reward me for it.

Preparation is paramount

I can’t improvise a lecture. It would not be fun. I would stumble, feel awkward, and also feel bad for my students. I’d be failing them. I’ve found that weekends are great for reading the publisher’s lecture notes, reviewing the publisher’s slides, and imagining how I would want to present this information.

I picture each lecture before I give it. I have the roadmap in mind and I leave myself little breadcrumbs so I stay on track. These might be penciled notes on paper or an agenda in PowerPoint. My challenge now is predicting how long it will take to go through a topic. I’m definitely getting better at that, but it’s the biggest variable in my preparation. How long will it take to talk about this? I have no idea.

I often find myself rushing at the end of the lecture. Maybe it’s good that time seems to fly at the front of the lecture hall? I figure if I felt it going slow, my students would feel it even more so. Better that the 80 minutes goes quickly.

My preparation thus far has been sufficient. I’m sure I could do more, but I’m glad I haven’t done any less.

Teaching live takes stamina

Teaching is a workout. I get the same high as an eight-mile run, but here it’s all in my head. The feeling also reminds me of playing with the Rolling Sloans after a really good show. I’d still be pumped up on adrenaline, glad that’s over but happy with how the performance went. I get that buzz every Tuesday and Thursday after two back-to-back lectures.

I’m not sure what about it is so tiring. I do feel like I’m performing. I’m very deliberately shoving my introversions aside and my mind is running in overdrive, especially when I’m going off the cuff on one of my business news tangents. But like these workouts I’ve been doing recently, I’ve learned to love the exhaustion. I tell myself during my physical workouts that this is where muscle is born. It hurts because I’m giving birth to strength. Lecturing on a subject like microeconomics, international trade, or a new business framework is like that. I’m giving birth to knowledge. It’s supposed to feel hard.

I also appreciate that it’s getting easier. Like training to do a five minute straight-arm plank, what once felt impossible is now a daily routine. I’m just three weeks in. I don’t know what it will feel like after sixteen, but I can’t wait to find out.

Conclusion

I’ve always been told I’d make a good teacher. I’ve always agreed. I’m grateful to have the chance to explore this now. I’m glad that Diablo Valley College is a close drive (or, more commonly now, a bike ride) away. I’m glad I got a MBA from MIT Sloan — without it, I would not have been hired.

This whole experience has been a major positive in my life and I expect it will only get better.

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