Teaching scares me.
I am conscious of the peculiarity of this admission. It is indeed unusual for a teacher to admit that he is afraid of teaching. Uncommon as it may be, I am not embarrassed by this confession.
For as long as I can remember, I have always experienced some level of fear when it comes to teaching. My worry does not stem from the lack of knowledge. Indeed, I spent many hours preparing for my class to ensure that I delivered the most accurate information to my students. No, my fear stems from the lack of confidence that I can create an inclusive environment for all of my students, a place where they can voice their thoughts and share their stories.
One would think that it would be easy to create such an environment. After all, as a teacher, I should have absolute control over every aspect of my classroom, right? Thus, it should not be hard to create an all-inclusive space for my students.
Well, that was what I used to believe.
I used to have a romanticized view of teaching. I would imagine walking into the classroom and seeing all of my students in their seats, on time, notebook open, and a pen in hand, ready to learn. I would imagine that all of my students would have done the required readings before class and be prepared to share their thoughts.
Of course, the classroom technologies would work beautifully, allowing me to present my lecture in the way I envision and within the amount of time planned. There would be follow up questions from my students after my lesson, and all students would be eager to engage in meaningful discussions with myself and each other. Finally, the classroom would be a stress-free, safe space for learning, and there would be no interruptions of any kind while class is in session.
Alas, that is a dream yet realized. I know there are remarkable teachers out there, who possess incredible talents, which allowed them to conduct their class in perfect symphony. I had the privilege of witnessing some of these teachers in action; they are quite amazing.
My teaching reality was quite different. It is more chaotic and humbling. For starters, I learned that sometimes getting my class to start on time was more challenging than I anticipated.
In my pursuit of classroom punctuality, I have encountered many barriers that made it difficult for me to accomplish my goal. Some of these barriers include, but are not limited to, technology malfunction, students’ conflict (both external and internal), and yes, even the weather.
I recalled one incredibly hectic day; it was the first day of the semester. I had stayed up late the night before to prepare for my class. I had structured my presentations and activities to match perfectly with class time. I even factored in breaks.
Although I was tired and had a hectic schedule before my class, I was excited. When it was time, I went to the classroom 10 minutes early to prepare. I had my PowerPoint presentation loaded into my flash drive and emailed it to myself, just in case I cannot get the computer in the classroom to read my flash drive. As a further precaution, I also brought my laptop along in case I need it.
When I got to the classroom and attempted to turn on the computer there, I realized I could not turn it on. As I am no stranger to technology, I worked with technologies daily, I began to troubleshoot the issue.
I started with the basics, checking the wires, power, and connections. Once I was satisfied that all was plugged in and powered correctly, I tried to turn on the computer again. Nothing happened.
Now I was getting nervous. I inspected the computer tower, the monitor, and the power sockets, looking for anything unusual to explain what was happening. Nothing again, all seemed to be in order. I had no idea what else to do. By this time, my 10 minutes head start was up, and students filed into the classroom. I did one more inspection, hoping to find the issue. Nope.
If I had taught at an earlier time, I could have called our IT department to get technical support. Unfortunately, I taught a night class, and our IT team went home for the day. Okay, plan B. I pulled out my laptop and fired it up. Now I am 5 minutes late. I informed my students what was happening and asked them for their patience. They were kind and waited for me. Once I got my laptop to turn on, I searched for ways to plug it into the projector. I found the plug, but it was the wrong kind, and I did not have an adaptor. Further, the projector was not turning on. I am now 10 minutes late.
I started to hear whispers, my heart was racing, and my sweats began to soak through my shirt. I remembered thinking, well, there goes a well-laid plan. Taking a deep breath, I gave up trying to fix my technology issue, looked at my class, and said, “ladies and gentlemen, technology and I had a disagreement today. So, it is not talking to me at the moment. Shall we go old school?”
There was silence, then one of my older students broke the silence with, “who are you calling old?” We all laughed, and I apologized for my old school comment. I taught the class that day using the blackboard and a very short piece of chalk.
The class went alright. I did not cover all that I intended, and I did not do all of my planned activities.
I also know that I did not provide enough opportunities for all of my students to speak. This was not done on purpose. It was resulted from a deviation of a well-constructed plan, causing the well-intentioned teacher to be frazzled.
I did take comfort in knowing that I provided space for some students to share their thoughts. However, those who spoke that day were those who are comfortable with public speaking. The quiet ones got left out, I think. In retrospect, I hope that the group discussion I set up that day provided my more introverted students with the opportunities to share their thoughts.
I wrote to our IT team after class that day and informed them about the technical issues. At the next class session, our IT team fixed the computer and projector. I recalled thinking that I would be able to start class on time because the technologies would finally work. Of course, that would be too easy.
About the writer
Professor Dung Mao PhD is an experienced Instructional Designer at Northwestern Health Sciences University. He serves as an expert advisor on the Squigl team.