University classes are starting up again, and I must say, I’m kind of excited. This will be my fourth year teaching college courses full-time. While many faculty members begin tenure-track positions without any clue about how to teach, I feel that in the past three years I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be an effective instructor in the classroom. Hell, I didn’t get the mug in this photo because I am a “mug.”
(In fact, I got this mug when I made it…for myself…at one of those paint-your-own pottery cafés. That was a fun conversation when I went to the café to pick up my pottery after it was dried in the kiln.)
Employee: You’re here to pick up your pottery? Okay, which one’s yours?
Me: That one [pointing].
Her: Which one? Describe it.
Me: It’s, uhhh, the orange one.
Her: Which orange one? What kind of pottery is it?
Me: Uhmmm, the orange mug, there.
Her: The one that says “Best. Prof. Ever.” on it? Ha. You a brown-noser or something?
Her: You trying to butter up your prof?
Me: [now realizing that I’ll look foolish whether I lie and say I made this for my professor or that I made it for myself]. Uhhhh, no. No. It’s uhhh. You know. I made it for me.
Her: You’re the “Best prof ever”?
Me: I think so.
Me: I thought it would be funny in an ironic kind of way.
Her: Irony, eh? You’re not an English prof, are you?
Me: How much do I owe for the mug?
So maybe I have some work to do if I want to live up to my mug’s claim. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t picked up a thing or two about being a total badass prof. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all about setting the tone early. You have to go in there on the first day and light a proverbial fire under their collective freshmen butts. Knock their socks off and leave them wanting more. You have to realize with young folks these days, professors must compete with so many trends and gadgets for their attention. What with their Twitters and their Twerkers and their Harlem Shakes and their MySpaces and their electronic paging devices. That first impression is everything and if you can reel in those malleable young minds on day one, you got ‘em, buster!
To give you more insight into my techniques, let me describe how I typically approach the first day in my PSYCH 101 class. Keep in mind, that for many of these students, this will be their very first class on their very first day of university. It’s up to me to show them exactly what’s in store as they pursue their dreams through higher education. And that’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.
We now descend upon a class full of wide-eyed college freshmen. The room buzzes with hushed conversation as they await the arrival of the person who is to change their lives forever…
I enter the class incognito. I’m blending in. This is easily accomplished via my eternally youthful appearance and hip wardrobe which consists of acid-washed jeans, a Bartman t-shirt, an 8-ball leather jacket, and a neon green ballcap which I strategically tilt to the side. I casually take a seat near the front of the class, giving a few head nods to no one in particular as I glance around. I feel eyes on the back of my head. It’s clear I’m already seen as the cool kid. I exude confidence. They think, “Who’s that guy? I respect him, and I want to be his partner if there is a group project.” Boy are they in for a surprise!
The scheduled class time has come and gone and there’s no sign of the prof. I scoff audibly, “Pffft, where is this dude? It’s, like, 10-oh-3. Class was, like, supposed to start, like, 3 minutes ago. Whatever. Five minute rule, right?!” I look around for signs of approval from the others. I receive it. I am a comforting presence.
“Anyone hear things about this dude? I heard he’s a total narbo.” I look around for any reactions. A few people look back with startled looks that could almost be interpreted as bewilderment. But I know better. They are starting to squirm. I’m taking them back out of their comfort zones. We’ll make scholars of them yet. “Total narbo, I’ve heard. What’s the story with this guy? Narbo city.”
I turn around and look straight at a spindly redheaded kid sitting one row back, “Hey, you hear that about this guy? The narbo stuff?” He shrugs as though I’m speaking another language. He’s shy. Mental note: this kid is shy. Call on him often during class. Become his mentor. “Someone must’ve heard this. It’s all over campus. You? You? Anyone hear this?” It is now dead silent in the room and everyone is staring at me. Some of the students are visibly terrified. They think, ‘Look at this guy. He’s just a regular student like me but he’s so charismatic. He has such control of this room. I’ll never be like him. I’m done for. University was a huge mistake.’ Perfect. Now is the time to strike.
I leap up from my seat and rip off my ballcap and 8-ball jacket. I skip up to the lectern and grab a tweed jacket I’ve hidden in its depths and put it on triumphantly. “Folks, as you may have deduced, I’m not just another student like you all, I’m in fact…THE PROFESSOR!” [I pause for applause].
“Now you’re probably wondering, what’s a cool dude like him doing teaching this class? Shouldn’t he be playing in a rock band or heading up a b-boy crew or something? Well I got news for you…[at this point I rip off the brown leather patches over the elbows of my tweed jacket to reveal CANDY STRIPED leather patches underneath]…I ain’t your granddaddy’s professor!!!” [I pause for more applause]. “And by the way Slim,” I say pointing at the redheaded kid from earlier, “I’ll give you a pass this one time for calling me a Narbo. Clean slate, okay?” [he cowers in his seat sheepishly as though he is pretending he didn’t say a word].
Hook. Line. And sinker. I’ve got them. I know that. But why not finish this thing off like a champ and give them something to Tweet about? Next class they’ll be lined up down the hallway trying to transfer into my section once word gets around.
“I want everyone to pick up their textbooks and hold them in the air. Now, I want you to start ripping out pages from your book! Go ahead, do it!” They are reluctant to do so. They clutch their books and stare at me with utter shock.
An adventurous soul pipes up, “Sir, this textbook was $155 dollars, I was hoping to resell it after…”
“Nonsense!” I retort, “Rip the pages! Rip them out!!” A few students begin to carefully tear one or two blank pages that precede the table of contents to appease me. “Rip! Don’t tear! Rip, I say, RRRRRRIP!” A handful actually start to engage in the exercise and forcefully begin ripping out page after page. I take note of them. They will be the stars. “Yes!!! What a wonderful sound! The ripping of paper! The destruction of archaic ideas. The start of a revolution! We are ready to learn!!!”
Many of them are laughing now. The shields have come down. In mere minutes I’ve transformed this roomful of petrified teenagers into a bona fide think-tank filled with mature, discerning, carefree pupils of educational exploration. University is going to be a blast, and they know it.
“Now, I should end by saying that this little page-ripping stunt was mostly symbolic. Chapters 1 through 8 from the text are actually really important and will be covered in depth on your final exam. So, for those of you who wiped out those chapters you might have to borrow from a friend.”
I smile. These are my students. It’s only their first day of university. And already, I am their favourite professor of all time.