Tuesday, September 15, 2009

First Day of Class

Today I am a professor. Or I should be. Let's run through the becoming-a-professor checklist and see how I'm doing.

*Get hired. Well, the unofficial hiring process has been completed - I was offered the job, I gave some poor admin assistant a bit of a headache trying to arrange my class time, and the department chair confirmed as of yesterday that I am teaching the class (specifically, that the students are excited, but I'm taking that with a grain of salt). The official hiring process, on the other hand, has barely begun, thanks to a months-long delay in gathering my information for a background check (the fact that my eventual login had the wrong domain suggests the underlying cause).

*Familiarize myself with the department. Not so much, no. To date, my only trip to this department was my hiring interview, in which I learned the location of the building, water fountain, and chair's office. I think I know where the main office is, because there are only a few reasons for secretary's window in a campus building lobby. I do not know where my classroom is, I don't know where my office is, I don't even know how many floors the building has. I know adjunct professors are academic temps and don't qualify for benefits, but I was kind of hoping for some form of orientation. Hopefully the main office admin people will be forthcoming with information like how to get my syllabus photocopied.

*Review my class roster. Nope. Due to the above hiring delay, I do not have a login for any of the campus websites that might let me access my roster; but that's okay, because due to the above disorientation, I don't even know what the websites are. As of a few weeks ago, when a student asked for permission to enroll, I had six students enrolled, with another two possibles. Once again, I'm relying on the main office to help me out.

*Get campus ID. Nope. Again, this can be blamed on the slow hiring process. Fortunately, I'll blend right in to a college campus, with my trusty red-and-black swiss army backpack advertising my student status, so I'm not too worried about being stopped by campus security and asked for proof I belong.

*Prepare my class syllabus. At last, something I can check off. My syllabus is 7 pages long, with one page of course information and six pages of readings. I read or skimmed every reading, about 850 pages of scholarly work, and several dozen additional articles that were discarded as not fitting my grand plan for each class. I know when papers will be due, and even have a list of potential topics. Only one day, our final discussion, may need a little something extra, if I judge that additional readings are needed to get my students discussing for the entire two hours.

*Prepare lesson plan for the first day of class. Check. There is of course the obvious: Introducing myself to the class, having the students introduce themselves to me and each other, and reviewing the syllabus, These are all necessary, but I don't like limiting the first day of class to such administrative tasks. The first day of class sets the tone. In undergraduate courses, this means they need to break out their notebooks and preferably their minds at some point. In a graduate seminar, this means discussion of some sort. My advisor, experienced in the ways of graduate seminars, provided the topic: A discussion of discussions. Everyone knows what makes a good discussion and what makes a bad discussion, but it's helpful to spell it out that first day and come up with class tactics for halting bad discussions.

*Dress like a professor. Or perhaps not like a professor. Most professors are distinguishable from students only by age - it was in a seminar much like the one I'm teaching that I first realized that my professor and I wore the same sneakers. I am not distinguishable from my students by age, and will have to rely on wardrobe. A suit or even dress pants seems overkill, as these are typically reserved for job interviews, but jeans are certainly out. I rely on the button-down shirt and black slacks to convey the right impression.

And then it's just a matter of killing time until class starts. Preferably by, say, getting hired, finding my office, and all those minor details.

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