I am sometimes plagued by an irrational fear for my job. Perhaps an explanation through analogy is in order.
I grew up on a farm almost ten miles north of my hometown. During that time, I’d sometimes find myself plunked down on the seat of the lawnmower or a tractor, reciting the operating procedures of an involuntary driving lesson so that I could “earn my room and board,” as my dad would say. One day he did some horse-trading and came home with an old Rupp RMT 80 dirt bike (vintage now) and taught me how to ride it. I was only a grade-schooler and can recall screaming down corn rows after the harvest at speeds up to 50 mph—truly a mother’s nightmare. A few short years later, my dad taught me how to drive his truck, which was a manual transmission, the road was gravel, and I couldn’t reach all three pedals without sitting perched on the front of the bench seat. Needless to say, those of us who grew up in that environment went through driver’s education fairly confident in our skills behind the wheel.
The morning of my sixteenth birthday, I pulled out of the drive with no destination and no intention to come home until the sun had set—at the very least. Barely a couple miles down the road and I was scared as hell, but not because I suddenly doubted my abilities. I couldn’t stop scanning the horizon or checking my mirrors, because it felt like only a matter of time before someone realized I shouldn’t be doing this on my own and drop the hammer. There was no reason to worry, though, because I remembered to bring my license—checked my wallet before getting in the car—and I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Right? Of course I wasn’t, and by the time I rolled into city limits, the window was down and the radio was up.
After I put in all those years at college to graduate last December, I found myself plunked down in front of a classroom full of first-year composition students. All I could do was recite operating procedures and check the mirrors, because surely someone would realize I shouldn’t be doing this on my own, yet no one came to drop the hammer. By the second week, I took attendance discreetly because I could remember all their names. I hadn’t quite figured out the formula for inspiring consistent dialog yet (still hit or miss on that one), but I learned how to regroup and keep fishing for those responses—there always seems to be a student or two who eventually decide to pipe up and, in turn, inspire the rest to be more vocal. Some aspects of teaching just can’t be taught in school, but the important thing is that I’m learning, and more importantly, that my students are learning something.
Even though my lectures feel insultingly simple compared to the graduate school seminars I just had (seems like yesterday), I’m still painfully aware of my inexperience despite the knowledge and can’t help feeling at times like I’m doing something wrong.
About the Adjunct: Erik Hanson completed his MA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Northern Iowa, where he also earned his BA in German, during which time he spent one year studying abroad in Austria. Thus far, his teaching portfolio consists of developmental writing and composition courses. In those rare moments when he is not in class or tutoring English students, he can usually be found hunched over his keyboard with a cup of coffee, working on short fiction or developing his novel.