Monday, August 31, 2009

First Steps

Today was the first day of school. It is that time of year… the first day for most schools is about now, give or take a couple of weeks. For California State University, Sacramento – my current school – today was that day. Although first days of school are vastly different depending upon grade level, all have in common those anxious moments where one doesn’t really know what to expect. Perhaps not as profound as that very first first day of school more than 40 years ago, that newness is still with me. I remember the excitement and the trepidation when I set foot in my kindergarten classroom for the very first time. Some of that is always with me, still, even after the countless first days of school since. I sincerely hope it never fades away.

School, like life, is a series of hierarchies. We enter at the bottom and climb to the top, only to encounter another first rung of yet another ladder. There are certain grades where the first day and all it entails is far more pronounced; kindergarten/first grade, middle school, high school, college and postgraduate study are the major lines of demarcation. However, at the start of any new academic year, there is always the unknown and the anticipation it brings. Although this new school year has those all too familiar elements, this time it is different and for the first time in some time, there is a resurgence of those feelings approaching the magnitude I felt so very many years ago.

As a second year grad student and as an instructor to undergrads, the facets of the first day are multiplied. I have served as graduate assistant (GA) for a year (two semesters and a summer session) and in that capacity I was responsible for most of my students’ grading and some of their instruction, but they were not “my” students. The instructor of record was the professor I was assigned to assist. She bore ultimate responsibility for her class. As a teaching associate (TA), I have my own students and the autonomy that comes with the position. And the responsibility. Being a GA has more than adequately prepared me – I know that I know what I am doing and I know the subject matter inside out, but it is still new. And exciting. And that semiconscious, indefinable and ever present anxiety – that fear – is part of it.

It is good to know that those butterflies are still present. I have not become so jaded that I am no longer taken by the experience… that the newness of the journey can still spawn that sense of wonder that I felt entering kindergarten all those many years ago. It takes me back. From the aspect of a third semester grad student, I have passed the initial wonderment – I am not lost, I am no longer the intrepid explorer. I know the landscape. But from the perspective of an instructor, this is new territory – territory I know from a distance, from viewing the map, as it were, but I have yet to walk it. Today, I took those first tenuous steps. Nothing makes me feel more alive.


Anonymous said...

Enjoy the ride, life would be very boring with out the various first's that we encounter along the way. School, work- whatever. Think it's part of what keeps us as people alive.
Gotta tell you, when opened your blog, the music that was playing is "Short People" it has been years since heard that tune. Made me smile, as I do resemble short people, certainly is a catchy toon, but :)
Pat from NY

elle said...

I still shake when I take attendance for the first week or so. And class is kind of a high for me! I get a rush of adrenaline and the butterflies go crazy, but I love it. I love knowing that whatever these students accomplish over the semester, it was in part because of me. Amazing feeling. I know you'll feel the same. I couldn't imagine doing anything other than teaching.

VV said...

The weather cooled down here quite a bit so it actually feels like Fall for the start of school. I usually get that excited feeling too, but this year marks the first year I wasn't excited about the start of a new school year. I just felt tired, like the summer was too short and I just wasn't ready to go back to handling two jobs at once. The law job got really busy over the summer. Anyway, going into class at 8 a.m., the tired feeling was still there. By the 12:30 class, however, as I was sitting outside in the gorgeous sun and cool breeze waiting for the current class to finish and leave the room, a peace came over me. I felt happy; happy to be on campus, teaching, seeing all these new freshmen excited and trying to find their way, and I felt lucky to have this second job that brings me so much joy throughout the year. So glad my bad attitude didn't last.

Anonymous said...

Your school starts early there! Wow. We have until the 8th..and my kids can't wait to go back. Great post Mike- I never saw my teachers as even remotely human so it was refreshing to read about your 'first feeling'. I get that in so many different ways, when attending certain meetings, dealing with some people at work, watching my kids perform on a stage, meeting up with old friends....the adrenalin is healthy and I'd never want to take things so much for granted that I lost the butterflies!
Bella :)

Belizegial said...

Just catching up here. I am enjoying your playlist although it didn't open automatically, had to fiddle around to get it going. My pc is an 'older' version of dell.
Congrats and much respect to you on your new standing in the world of academia!