Wearing a New Hat
I’m taking an online language course with an institution that’s not my own this semester, and it’s teaching me an enormous amount. The learning isn’t yet about the language – that will come in time – but about what it’s like to “do college,” especially as a new student.
I was entirely out of my element when it came to seeking admission. First, I couldn’t find the portal for non-degree-seeking students (hint: scroll all the way down the webpage, Cate), and I wasn’t expecting to have to pay for things quite so soon: $35 for admission; $126 for orientation. I expected admission to be instantaneous, and it wasn’t – there were some entirely reasonable waiting periods while various things were processed at the university. And I was wholly unprepared for what an online course would involve.
I logged on to begin my course last night, and discovered I couldn’t access my class materials or zoom link until I’d completed an online orientation to the course management software (including quizzes!). Completing everything took forty-five minutes, which was extremely unfortunate, since I’d only logged on half-an-hour before my class was due to begin. Once I passed the final quiz (100%, yay me!) I had to wait for the system to register that I’d passed that final quiz, and only then could I join my class (already in progress). When I joined, it was clear that the students had already learned some basic words, and they were about to introduce little stick figure friends to each other. I lost my mind with nerves (actual thought track: I DON’T KNOW ANY WORDS) and backed out of zoom in a panic. I then promptly sat on my couch and cried.
This was, undoubtedly, an overreaction, but my overwhelming sense of “I don’t know anything, I don’t even understand why I’m seeing my instructor’s screen on zoom, I’m out of my depth, what am I thinking?” obliterated my more rational thoughts.
Today I’m left thinking – how often must this be true for our students? How many times I have assumed that something is self-explanatory when explanation would help? How often have I taken for granted that my students know where the bookstore is, or how to buy an e-book online? How many assignments have I written that were hard to parse? How many times have I counted on my students being digitally dexterous when perhaps they were all at sea?
I wrote my professor this morning and explained that I panicked. I then came to work wondering how they would reply, fearing that my earnest and heartfelt honesty would be met with a brusque email about me being a college student who should measure up, try hard, and be responsible. I know I’ve sent such emails in the past. When it arrived, the email I got back was warm, incredibly kind, and very reassuring. It was a model response to an anxious student, and I learned from that, too.
I’m humbled by the education I still need, and more deeply aware than ever that my pedagogy should take nothing for granted. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do better – at both my language studies, and at being the kind of teacher I want to be.
This is going to be one wild ride.