No Place Like Home: Teaching Where I Was Taught
By Jenny Ortiz
I knew going to back to St. John’s University after being away for two years as I earned my MFA degree would make me an outsider. At least that’s what I thought. I was no longer a student; the events, the fliers for the dances, and the cafeteria no longer belonged to me. I was part of the faculty now. However, I soon discovered that having been a student at the university only two years earlier, I was privy to some things faculty members normally don’t have access to. Teaching where I once studied: Hindsight 101.
You’re Not Sneaky!
The very beginning of the semester I tell students to keep their phones on vibrate or put away. It’s a common practice among all professors. However, I add the line: you’re not sneaky. I can see you trying to text your friend. I know you’re on Facebook. If you are going to insist on texting, then let me demonstrate the proper way of texting without getting caught. This tends to surprise my students and, for the most part, they don’t use their phones in class.
My students have laptops given to them by the university. I can’t tell them not to bring the laptops in, but when they have their laptops out, I know they’re on Facebook. How do I know this? Every time I brought my laptop to class I was doing everything but taking notes. What I tell my students is this: you’re on Facebook. Fine. However, if I ask you a question, you should know the answer. If you don’t, you have to turn off the computer. I’ve found that with this knowledge, my students don’t even let me ask questions; rather they are quick to discuss the material we’re learning that day. Why? So they can prove to me they can multi-task.
Why Don’t We Be Friends?
Given that I graduated from STJ, I’ve been able to bond with my students. St. John’s students are smart, but sometimes we like to take the easy way out. In order to challenge us, we must be entertained. With this in mind, I’ve developed lesson plans and discussions that revolve around my students’ interests. While it may seem that the class is easy, they’re working hard. This semester, my students read twenty short stories, wrote ten reading responses, had weekly quizzes, a midterm, a final and wrote three major essays. They say I’m tough on them.
For as much work as I give them, I also cut them some slack. They’re all hard workers, some hold two jobs while taking a full credit load. Many of them are leaders on campus, which takes a lot of time and energy. As a student, I was active on campus and know that leadership roles are demanding. The fact they can even drag themselves to class after a three hour meeting for Resident Assistants, tells me they take college seriously.
The Campus is Circular
Anyone who is new to St. John’s is going to get lost. The campus is huge; it was built on a golf course. How do I know this? I spent my three years at STJ as not only a tour guide, but as a summer orientation leader. I know more fun facts about St. John’s than I’d care to admit. Nonetheless, this information has helped me with two things: bonding with my students and knowing where I’m going. I know where my classes are, how long it’ll take for me to get from my office to said classroom, where to get the best food on campus, as well as avoiding the crush of students getting out of classes.
Finally, the best thing about working at STJ would have to be seeing my old professors and mentors. I’d be lost without my former Spanish professor. She took me under her wing when I first started teaching at St. John’s. She showed me the Adjunct Office, how to print things out, and gave me all the inside information I needed. Aside from her, I get to see all my former English professors; once again, I’m a writer among a community of writers. I’ve come back home and am re-acquainting myself with people and places.
I have established myself as an adjunct professor in a community where I once thrived in as a student. I’m living proof that, yes, Dorothy, you can go home.
About the Freeway Flyer: Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious 23-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 our 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 fictionatwork.com, Blink-ink.com, Jersey Devil Press, dogeatcrow.com, Eighty Percent Magazine and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/jnylynn.