If You Don’t Have Jitters On the First Day, Maybe You Shouldn’t Be Teaching

By Jenny Ortiz

The yearly work that comes with the first day of Fall classes, as always, feels tedious and only reminds me of the enormous workload I have this coming semester. Like most Freeway Flyers, taking on six classes in one semester is hard and at the end, I tell myself to never to do it again. However, Fall comes, and with it, the offer to teach some of my favorite courses. Soon I forget the promise I made only a few months earlier, and agree to teach multiple classes on multiple campuses. Ah, such is the life of the Freeway Flyer.

I watch television marathons that revolve around the skills and artistry of cooking, a topic that I rarely mention in my literature classes. Although I knew I had six classes to prep for, I found myself watching massive amounts of “Chopped.” The intensity of the competitors kept me glued to the screen when I should have been mapping out my schedule for Fall semester. As exciting as a new class can be, there is also that fear that forms in the pit of my stomach. Will this group of students enjoy my class and leave with a better understanding of college reading and writing? Will the semester run smoothly?

These fears will always pop up, no matter how long I’ve been teaching. Honestly, I hope that they’ll always pop up and that I always feel the jittery excitement and nervousness of standing in front of a new class I will be guiding for a brief semester.  If I didn’t feel any of this, then I’d have to reevaluate my desire to teach. It is not enough to simply do my job. Teaching isn’t a nine to five where even if we hate it, we can get by. If a teacher hates teaching then it ruins the experience for so many others. It can, as we have seen, have dire effects on the students.

With all of this in mind, the beginning of the Fall semester is a time to reevaluate the syllabus, the assignments and any other places in the classroom experience that can be changed and enhanced. With this attitude, the tedious task of scheduling now becomes a chance for me to make sure I enjoy the semester.

To make my life easier, this semester I have nearly perfected the use of an actual calendar to mark off all the assignments and lessons the class will have. I then print and copy the calendar for my students. Not only is this visually appealing, but it also saves me time from having to type in every class date in a list form. Not only have my students benefited from this system, but so have other adjuncts and myself.

Another small change I’ve made concerns workshops. Workshops and peer reviews are fundamental in fostering trust as well as sharp analysis. However, many of the students use workshops to slack off during class. While I don’t mind my students interacting with each other, I find that the assignment gets pushed away for “more important” matters like the season premiere of “Glee.” With that said, I’ve employed two methods of grading for peer review. One is a simple worksheet that must be completed and handed in the day of the workshop. This is something I’ve experimented with in the past and seems to work well, but it does add more paperwork to my already heavy load. Method two is experimental. A student’s grade in an assignment also reflects how much his peer review partner worked with them and so it is only fair that they get the grade as well. So if Student A gets a B on an assignment, Student B gets a B for their peer review work. This will encourage and foster group work.

Finally, when I have my conferences with my students, I’d like to take the “Chopped” approach. In “Chopped,” the competitors’ dishes are evaluated based on taste, creativity, and presentation as well as the use of all mystery basket ingredients. With this rubric in mind, I can discuss my students’ work with efficiency and a higher level of detail. When it comes to taste, I’m looking for originality, tone and persuasiveness.  With creativity and presentation, I’m looking for work that showcases the student’s talents and growth as a writer. Finally with the mystery basket ingredients, I’m in search for informative content as well as completeness.

Okay, though I’m not the only person who has avoided getting ready for the school  year, I’m probably one of the best examples of procrastination. The back-to-school blues hit me hard every year. However, this is the start of a new term and new ideas. As I try to communicate with IT about forgotten passwords again, I remember that this is another semester of learning and adapting. How incredible is that?

About the Freeway Flyer:

Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious 24 year old New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off  earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun).  When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream.  If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on,, Jersey Devil Press,, Break Water Review,Eighty Percent Magazine and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter:

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