Dear Future COMM 107 Students,
As you are moving into your freshman dorms, filled with a myriad of emotions, I’m sitting here realizing that I am not much different than you right now. I, too, am new to the area. I, too, have just left behind everything I used to know–friends, family, hometown–to embark on the next step of my life. I, too, am both excited and nervous and unsure of what to expect of the next four or five years.
I do know that for the upcoming semester, I will be your instructor. For almost all of you, I will be the FIRST instructor you ever have at the University of Maryland, as we are spending the bright and early morning hours (8 am and 9 am) together three times a week, including this upcoming Monday–your first day of school. So that’s a pretty big role to fulfill, being your first professor. I don’t want to be a bad first impression; or worse, I don’t want to let you down.
You are my first group of students since my failed attempt in the classroom with Teach for America. Although I loved my students, I gave up on my role as a 6th grade teacher after just a year with them. I couldn’t take the pressure of the K-12 system and the responsibility of educating 100 tiny humans anymore; especially since I felt underprepared and like I was a disservice to them. Because of this glaring failure in my past, as my first day back in front of a class draws nearer, I can’t help but feel more and more of the imposter syndrome sneaking up on me. For those of you who haven’t heard that term yet, imposter syndrome is suffered by individuals who have an inability to internalize their accomplishments and holds a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” In real life, imposter syndrome feels like a wave of nausea inducing anxiety that washes over you at random intervals. Imposter syndrome sounds like the voice in my head that says, “what have I signed up for,” “did they make a mistake, letting me into this program and into this role?” And over and over I hear…”you failed last time, what makes you think you can be successful now?”
I try to silence this voice in my head because you deserve better. You deserve more than the broken version of myself that I was in the classroom three years ago. You deserve more than the nervous, self-conscious wreck I have been even this past week as I prepare to meet you. What you all deserve is a confident, authentic, happy, hardworking instructor who shows you that faculty in a large state university CAN care for you as a whole person.You deserve the unique mixture I am as a spokesperson in my academic field and as a professional in student development and affairs. You deserve an empathetic teacher like me who will create a safe, inclusive classroom setting where you can grown into your new college identity. You deserve my best version of me.
I’ve been reflecting a lot about this best version of me…how to unlock it, how to set her free. And I’ve realized, my dear future students, that in order to get the best version of me–in order for me to overcome the ghosts of my failures–there are a couple things I need to get off my chest. There are some things about me you need to know…
- I’m not cool. I’ve realize that I spend about half my time trying to convince everyone that I’m much cooler than I am, and then I send the other half of the time messing up that illusion. So I figured I would save us all a bunch of time and admit this right now. So yeah… I’m sorry kiddos, but I’m not cool, mostly awkward; nerdy as hell, actually. I’m not a smooth talker, I can’t deliver the punchline of jokes correctly. I overshare and I laugh at awkward silence. I unabashedly love Harry Potter and Hamilton and Gilmore Girls; I will reference them constantly if I feel comfortable enough around you. So if you were looking for a professor who was impressive and put together, you’re out of luck. But let me tell you the perks of having a totally uncool prof… I’ll give you the space to be yourself too.
- I’m (hella) not perfect. I’m definitely a recovering perfectionist who has to remind herself that it’s okay to struggle and ask for help. I wish someone had told me this as I struggled as first year teacher in Nashville. Looking back, I think a lot of my failure to sign up for my second year of the TFA commitment was my need to be perfect–the need to be the perfect 6th grade teacher with the perfect classroom and perfect test scores, and, oh yeah, I had to do that while making it appear effortless for others. But the truth was, I was drowning in despair, I was overwhelmed, and I was too proud of a perfectionist to open my mouth and ask for help. Instead, my perfectionism backfired horrendously and I buckled under the pressure I had put on myself. Reflecting back on all of this, I have promised myself that as I venture back into teaching again this year, that I won’t place those same unrealistic expectations on myself. Allow this letter than to be, in part, an apology in advance for all the times I will mess up this semester. I can’t pretend any longer that I’ve got it all together; that I’m always right; that I can do it all. I’m only human. But lucky you, because I understand that y’all aren’t perfect either and if you accept me for my flaws, that I will return the favor and treat you fairly and with empathy.
- I’m not “the” expert. I didn’t invent communication. I didn’t write the textbook. I’m a student just like you (although trust me, I know more about a lot of things than you…One of those things happens to be communication theory, patterns, and content). Let’s be realistic, I don’t know everything. This means that you may ask a question I don’t know the answer to. A couple years ago, when my 6th graders asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to, I would burn bright red, I’d cover my ass and make myself look correct instead of offering the correct answer. My former students deserved better than me trying to prove myself as the expert at all times instead of showing them humility and honesty. Future students, I promise to never bullshit you and make up an answer just so I can seem smarter than you. Instead, I might have to look stuff up with you, or turn your question back to the class to answer. We will look for the answer together, and trust me, at the end of the semester, we’ll all be smarter for it. My goal is to end the semester with all of us having learned a lot and grown even more.
With these above confessions, I hope to be honest and up-front with you. I am offering my vulnerable, whole self as your instructor for the next four months. I trust that you won’t take advantage of that. I trust you will not see my authenticity for weakness. I trust that you will not see me as a pushover; rather, you will see me as an instructor who challenges you to think beyond your regular paradigm. I will be a professor who invests if you. I will be the person on campus you can come to when you face a challenge (whether that be in my course or in life outside the classroom).
While I might not be cool, or perfect, or the expert… I will be there for you. Every. Damn. Day. I only pray and hope and dream that it is enough.
As you move into your new rooms, I move into this role as your instructor. I can’t wait to meet you. I can’t wait to invest in you. Until then…