This week marks the halfway point in my first semester of graduate school, which is weird considering my classes started only a month ago. My school is on a quarter schedule, which means there are four quarters instead of two semesters. I thought I would enjoy this format change, but as it turns out, I do not. In addition to only really being in class for a little over two months, we only meet every other week, meaning I will attend each of my classes a whopping six times before they are considered “completed.”
But even though I’ve only been to each of my classes three times, I have had plenty of opportunities to make an ass of myself.
The first day of school
I was incredibly nervous on my first day of school. I spent the majority of the day in the library reading the material so I would be ready for class (and by ready, I mean ready to sit in the back praying the teacher never calls on me or looks me in the eye hoping I would answer a question). While I was nervous to begin graduate studies, I was far more nervous to start making friends. At that point, I had already been in Boston for about two weeks and was eager to start living as part of a real-life cast member from the show “Friends.” Before class, I had the opportunity to meet another student who I believed was named Brad, but unfortunately that did not work out very well.
As I made my way to class, I could see a group of students in front of our classroom door. Our professor had made the mistake of arbitrarily moving our class time from 5:50 to 5:30 because she felt it was more convenient. However, the class that did not let out until 5:40 did not find her new time to be particularly convenient, so we were forced to make awkward small talk until the room vacated.
I would not say I am the best when it comes to initiating or sustaining small talk. Typically, when a stranger tries to engage in mindless banter, for some reason, my voice raises a few octaves and every time I end a sentence, it sounds like I’m asking a question.
“Is this the first class you’re taking in the MAT program?” I am asked by a student who, unlike myself, is uncomfortable with silence.
“Yes it is? I’m excited but also a little scared?” I respond with the poise and voice register of a prepubescent boy.
One particularly eager student, Patty, took it upon herself to lead a group discussion.
“Okay kids,” she announced, deciding it would be clever to pretend to be our teacher (since we’re all studying to be teachers—hilarious, right?!), “who did something fun today?”
As we were all standing in a circle, she went person to person, asking each individual (there were eleven of us) what he or she did that day.
“Well I work with underprivileged children so I spent the day on the phone trying to get funding for our program,” Activist Annie replied. The class was impressed with her heart for the world as we moved on to the next person.
“I’m working in the Dean’s office so I’ve just been scheduling his meetings and working the desk,” Working Wanda explained. It was clear that Wanda, in her pantsuit, would be taking her studies very seriously.
“I woke my daughter up today and told her we would be playing hookie from school. We went to the zoo and it was so much fun!” Motherly Maura described to coos from the fellow classmates.
“What about you?” Patty asked once it got to me. “What did you do today?” Panicked, because I had, in fact, not saved the world, done anything productive to society, or even had fun that day, I replied truthfully.
“Honestly,” I started, “I had a burrito and it was the highlight of my day.” I did not receive coos or supportive head nods like the other kids and after a beat, Patty moved on to the next person.
Once we got inside the classroom, our professor went around asking everybody what he or she was studying, where they were from, and what they believed their biggest difficulty as a teacher would be.
Most students engaged in dialogue with the professor that lasted several minutes, discussing their own teaching philosophies or sharing stories about how one special teacher changed their life so much that they knew they had to become a teacher, too.
Not having any heartfelt stories to tell when she got to me, again, I answered honestly with: “My name is Kate. I’ll be studying to become a high school English teacher. I’m from Nashville and I think my biggest difficulty will be navigating Boston and learning about the entire public school system up here because it’s so different from Tennessee’s.”
To this, and I’m not sure if it was because the professor was tired or if she just didn’t like what I had to say, the only thing the professor responded to me was: “Go back to Nashville.”
Am I moving too fast?
That next Tuesday was the first day of my second class, which was about double the size of my first. There are several students from the first class that are also in my second one, so I recognized a few faces when I entered the classroom. However, appropriately remembering that I had not made a lasting impression the previous week, I decided not to sit near any of them.
We were immediately divided into groups in this class to discuss our prior knowledge of working with students with disabilities. In my group were two students from my previous class. When our discussion was over, one of the girls tried to start a conversation with me. Keep in mind, at this point, I still have no friends and am getting very eager, and, much like a child with a loose tooth, I am willing to use force to reap any reward.
“Your name is Kate, right?” she asked me.
“YES! Ahem, yes,” I nearly choked. Someone knew my NAME. I could see this girl sitting in Central Perk already. “What’s your name, again?” I asked, trying to figure out if she was more of a Monica or Rachel.
“I’m Melissa, but you can call me Mel,” she replied. So not only did she know my name, but we were on nickname basis. I was confident we would be fast best friends. “You’re from somewhere far away, right?” she asked.
“I am!” I practically shouted in an “Aww, you remembered!” way. “I’m from Nashville.”
“Oh, I actually have some friends that just moved to Nashville this past weekend,” she said.
“Really? Let me talk to them and I’ll let them know all the places to go,” I said as if there were any way that I either knew how to contact these people or actually knew any hotspots around Nashville.
“Okay,” she responded with a nervous laugh.
“You can give them my Facebook. I’ll totally add you later tonight—don’t worry—and you can just point them out to me and I’ll message them!” It was right after those words escaped my mouth that I realized I had made a huge mistake. The panic in her eyes burned as she realized her mother was right when she said not to talk to strangers.
Mel and I haven’t really spoken since.
In that same class, there are about thirty students. Because of its size and the fact that we only meet every other week, the professor doesn’t really know our names. She printed nameplates for us to place on our tables, but mine, of course, reads “Kathleen.” While I introduced myself as “Kate” and only turn in assignments with the name “Kate,” I was still strictly referred to as “Kathleen” for the first couple of weeks.
Recently, this professor and I have been emailing about an assignment. In each email response, I sign as “Kate.” I have begun receiving responses addressing “Katie” and have been referred to as “Katie” several times on the class blackboard.
In class last night, she decided to call on me for a question. I could see in her eyes that she knew who I was, but the poor thing just could not comprehend my name. She had forgotten her nameplates so she was on her own entirely. I tried so desperately to avoid her eye contact so she wouldn’t call on me (a foolproof method, current students), but I broke as she extended her hand and addressed: “Kuhhh…?”
I had deteriorated from “Kathleen” to “Katie” to just “Kuhhh.” I predict next time we meet, I will just be greeted with a cavewoman-like, “Unh.”
“What is wrong with you?”
Last night, we were broken into groups to create a lesson plan in order to teach our respective grade levels about the government shutdown. My group consisted of four English teachers and two social studies teachers, all at the high school level. As we were discussing, one of the social studies teachers mentioned that we could have our students engage in a debate. While I thought having a debate would be a good idea if the class naturally leaned in that direction (the students clearly were split down the middle on an issue), I was not on board with calling that our staple project.
Matt, one of the social studies teachers, tried to explain that they didn’t even have to debate at each other—they could break the class into a bunch of different groups and one group goes first, then another, and then another, and then another (it was explained as confusingly as it is written). I tried to add that if there is no discussion happening between each of the presenting teams, then it is not a debate—it’s a series of presentations.
Harold, an elderly gentleman who proudly proclaimed in one of the discussion board posts that he is a fan of freedom, did not, apparently, understand where I was coming from. I may not have explained myself very clearly because in Harold’s mind, I was describing a debate much in the style of a student fight club fit with both hoses and a mud rink.
“What,” he started, “so you just want the kids shouting at each other the whole time? You want them throwing things at each other across the room and not learning anything? What’s wrong with you?”
I tried to talk Harold down and re-explain my position, but he never really got on board. And I may have exasperated things when under the “materials” section where things such as “handouts” and “textbooks” should go, my only contribution was “a gavel.”
Needless to say, I am still looking to fill the roles of Chandler, Ross (debatable), Joey, Monica, and Rachel if there are any interested parties in the Boston area.