When 8am becomes doable

I’ll be the first to admit to not being a morning person! That doesn’t mean I’m a big grumpy person when I get up, but I’m…what’s the adjective? Yeah, just ask little bruva (my affectionate term for little brother) on this one. Let’s say, I’m conversational to the point of answering yes/no questions and very simple questions that require one to three words. Give me some coffee and I’m ready for the day…usually.

Needless to say, I was just a little surprised when I was handed the 8am 5 days a week beginner’s French class to teach this semester. Okay, I did half expect it would happen since I’m one of the new graduate instructors in the department since they don’t let you teach until you’ve completed a couple of semesters. So, I smiled and decided to treat it as another adventure.

Orientation came and went, and I was sitting in my room the night before my first class wondering how this would go. I did student teaching, yes, but this would be different. These students would be basically reviewing everything they had ever learned in two years of high school French in one semester. They’d be looking at me (a kid about the same age if not younger than them) expecting me to teach them everything they need to know when it comes to learning and speaking French on a beginning level.

It’s a little daunting. I had the feeling of dread and excitement rolled into one.

How would I survive the week? The day? The 50 minutes? What would I do if they asked me questions I don’t know? What would they think if I made a mistake? How can I be fair? How can I seem organized?How can I be effective? How do I make the class fun?

All at 8AM!!!

I woke up early the morning of the first day and made two extra strong cups of coffee, ate breakfast, got dressed, took a deep breath, and walked out the door. “Whew! Here we go! ” I thought.

I found my room and about 15 kids were already waiting to go in. I was a little shocked. I was 15 minutes early!! I sat down in the chair at the front of the room and started trying to get things set up, but my computer wouldn’t turn on! O_O My new laptop was apparently having as many jitters as I was. I was trying not to show my frustration at having technical issues. In a squeaky voice I made of funny comment about how I hoped everyone showing up at 7:45 for a 8 am class would become a habit which got a few chuckles.

I kept staring at my screen which said it was now running diagnostics and decided that using the computer wasn’t meant to happen. I felt all eyes on me as I continued to wait for the minutes to pass before going over the syllabus right at 8am. I kept giving a reassuring smile to the students and right as 8:00 on the dot, I handed out the syllabus. I had the students introduce themselves and make name tags followed by an in depth look at the syllabus.

I didn’t really start having fun until with the last 10 minutes when I got them to practice basic greetings in French. The students started getting excited when they understood things and I tried to be as encouraging as possible to get them to try to pronounce the foreign words. Well, “Bonjour!” isn’t quite foreign, but saying it correctly can be a little difficult. They seemed to enjoy it, and I let them out about 3 minutes early.

I survived that first day and the first week. Each day seemed to teach me about what was working and not working as I taught. I found out what happens when you don’t plan very well. I found out what happens when I’m not organized, and yes, what happens when I don’t drink enough coffee. I’m still finding out that I need to change my strategy. I’m not reaching students like I need to in order to make sure they understand.

There’s something sort of scarily addicting about teaching, I’ve found. Hardly a day goes by that I’m not nervous to walk into that classroom and set up to teach the lesson for that day.  Yet, as soon as I walk in that door, I can hardly wait to get started and start seeing those light bulbs come on as students are able to understand and pick up what I’m trying to teach. Well, at least, I hope to see the light bulbs come on. One day, I looked around the classroom to a stare of absolute confusion and yes, there were even a couple of horrified looks. I stopped and started backing up and slowing down trying to see where the problem was. It turned out the problem was sort of the whole lesson… Damage control was necessary the next day, but we got over the hurdle and moved on.

So, when did 8am become doable?

It became doable not just because it’s my job. I get paid for this…eventually. But, more than that, I have these next few months to try to help students love French as much as I do. Sure, perhaps they won’t love it as much as I do, but at the very least I can give them the tools to start off with learning French and hopefully they’ll enjoy it too. As one of the professors said in our French division meeting, “The future of our program relies on you the graduate assistants teaching these lower levels. You are the ones who will inspire students to continue in the program.” I hope I can have that impact.

For now, it’s the continuing process of learning, trying something else, trying to do better, and oh, yeah, keeping up with those grad classes I’m also taking. It’s going to be interesting trying to balance all this. I often want to just plan lessons and activities and not have to pick up that book I need to read for the next class.

As I’m looking at the clock right now, I believe it’s time to finish preparing for tomorrow and call it a night. I’m overcoming the speech problem gradually in the morning, but it does seem to require a sufficient amount of sleep, I’ve found.

Until next time…

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