Back in the saddle

Two days ago I travelled up to Uni city to start teaching the first of my new classes.

As I have not yet made the move myself, I had to take the coach up, stay overnight, teach the next day and then back down after classes. It was a really, REALLY long couple of days. To begin with it was 100 degree or 38 degrees depending where you are reading this. Campus is massive and, as is necessary in these situations, I found myself consistently on the opposite end of the campus to where I was supposed to be because I (shock!) followed the signs along the way. I arrived in the city with enough time to spare to go to university #3 (where I am teaching online) in order to sign contracts, give tax info and get the basic orientation. That was also a massive campus but I had only just arrived in the city and didn’t mind too much taking train/bus to get there and then walking for half an hour, although the heat made this quite unpleasant. I used to teach at uni #3 a few years ago so I was able to navigate without too many problems (it has been a while) although I was amused to note that my online map had buildings labelled by name while the physical campus maps had them by number so their was no corroboration, I just had to hope I was on the right track – literally. I located the HR easily enough and we got through the paperwork and orientation business. I was super-impressed by uni #3’s upfront details about contracts, pay dates, rates, bonuses etc – everything was clearly laid out and then explained to me. Uni #3 are also being very generous with payments for meeting/email/phone time and also separate marking time.

That done, I headed off for my meeting at Uni #1

I had missed the group meet last week and the course-co coordinator was unimpressed with me due to that even though I was very clear from the get-go that I would not be able to attend due to location issues (it cost me hundreds of dollars to come up for the day which is fine while I am earning it back but not so fine when it is only for a one-hour meeting). I did mention to course co that I was happy to be patched in to a loudspeaker so I could listen to the meeting and even though we agreed that this was the best solution, she forgot about this option and was grumpy with me for not attending. Academics can be both absent-minded and aggressive which is a difficult combination.

Academics can be a bit judgemental

As mentioned, navigating this campus was far from easy so by the time I arrived I was an hour late, dripping with sweat and gasping. she was suitably and understandably horrified that she had apparently hired the (irresponsible) crazy-cat-lady to teach in her course and we kept the meeting short and sweet to our mutual relief.

She was horrified when I arrived at her office ....

She did ply me with bundles of materials – course reader, textbook, a folder that had been sorted into weekly sections, an ‘introduction to tutoring’ handbook, a detailed lesson plan for the first tutorial, (North American readers, a tutorial is a small class – usually with around 20 students. In Australia we have a ‘lecture’ which all students attend and then ‘tutes’ which are broekn down – this varies from discipline to discipline, for example there may be a lab component also – but it fairly stock-standard across the board) and 4 handouts  – 3 of which were pre-photocopied and 1 which I needed to copy myself.

It was all a bit overwhelming.

For a start, although I was initially impressed to be given such detailed supplies, I soon realised that the reason for this is that the course co-ordinator is a control freak of sorts. The other reason is that this course has been so carefully written that nothing is left to spontaneity chance, but rather very carefully structured – this is going to be less about tertiary teaching and more about post-secondary teaching, I can see that already. So, short meeting accomplished, masses of materials loaded into my overnight bag, course co & I head of to yet another area on campus to see about contracts. Of course contract lady is out of the office so I promise faithfully to follow-up on this myself and head off to student village where I have booked and paid for two nights, even though I am only staying for one, (read all about that here) collected my key, walked another 15 minutes in scorching sun to my room and promptly took a cold shower. The first lecture was in an hour and I had to get back to contract lady, then back to course co’s office as we had agreed to meet in order for her to show me where the lecture was being held. In order to minimise the time I was going to have to spend with controlling/angry course co, I decided to get there 15 minutes before the lecture at the earliest but this still meant I had to dump my bags and head back to contract lady to sort that out – I do really want to be paid for my services.

Contract lady had gone home for the day.

It appears that contract lady keeps short office hours and even though I had promised faithfully to get my contract sorted, contract lady was gone for the day. I was now running ahead of schedule but did not want to be stuck with angry course co longer than I needed to be so I decided to sit in the shade, chain-smoke and catch my breath (trust me, this is possible). I waited until 15 minutes before the lecture and then went to course co’s office. The door was shut and there didn’t seem to be anyone around. Obviously I had left it too late and I was now cementing my reputation as unreliable – moreover, I had no idea where the lecture was and had less than 10 minutes at this point to get there. I remembered that I had been sent an email some weeks previously with room numbers and I managed to find where the lecture was, to find someone who was not a first year (no mean feat in week 1) and get my butt to the lecture theatre – by which time all 500 enrolled students were lined up outside the doors to get in. I decided that pushing my way through with violence was probably a bit unseemly so I dutifully got on the end of the line and made my way through with the students only to be greeted by angry course co who gave me a look that told me that I had indeed confirmed her suspicions that she had made a mistake in hiring me. Most seats were taken by this point but as faculty normally sit down the front, I managed to find the other tutors and grab a seat a nanosecond before the lecture started.

It was actually really entertaining and informative

The students were all actively engaged and they clapped each speaker in turn and were quick to answer questions, give ideas and opinions and be a generally cool group. As it is a two-hour lecture, we finished at the 1.5 hour mark – I love university hours! I had made some notes about things that were flagged as going to be discussed in ‘the tutes tomorrow’ and left. I went to the ref, got a combination chinese dish, 3 large iced coffees and headed back to my stay-for-one-night-pay-for-two accommodation. I won’t give you a blow-by-blow of the night but suffice to say that the evening was still very, very warm and even though there was air conditioning and a ceiling fan in the lounge area of my accommodations, there were neither of these things in the bedroom so, it was just too hot to sleep. I was tired from travelling and walking around all day but it is impossible for me to sleep when I am lying in a pool of my own sweat – go figure. I spent some time going over the course materials and lesson plan for the next day and I got 2 about hours sleep in total. I was awake at 5am and too worried about being late for the 8:30am course meeting to risk going back to sleep so I got ready, deposited my key back at the front desk and headed onto campus for about 7:45. I bought more iced coffee, smoked a dozen cigarettes and then found the meeting room, all in good time thank goodness.

The meeting went fine, as these things go but the Assistant course co had printed out all class lists except mine (of course) so while everybody else slowly made their way out of the room, I was stuck waiting around and I had flashbacks of my crazy cat-lady persona. Course co looked at me in a bit of a kinder way (I think she was still in a good mood about the successful lecture from the previous evening) and said in really pitying voice “are you all overwhelmed with everything?” I managed to convey that no, I was actually fine, just waiting for my class lists before she interrupted to ask if I had been to contract lady as promised the night before. I tried to say “No, when I returned, she had left for the day” but she cut me off at ‘No” and gave me a withering look that told me that my increased status gained from managing to find the lecture theatre the night before and to be on time for the meeting that morning had been lost and I was back to the status of amoeba.

I had two hours before my first tutorial

In that time I needed to get contracts signed and find my class – easy right? Well, contract lady was in her office but she was training a new staff member so it all took much longer than it should have. I then asked where the building I was supposed to teach in was and received directions that sent me clear across the wrong side of the campus – again. Like yesterday, I was dragging my overnight bag around as well and it was already 38/100 again and given than I was exhausted from the day before and seriously lacking in sleep, I struggled not to break down in tears and just go home. I eventually found my room way down the bottom end of campus and with 30 minutes to spare. The room was in use so I had to wait out in the stinking heat and my crazy-cat-lady persona was in serious danger of re-emerging. I dd not want to scare off my little first year students so I washed down in the bathroom and sent my son some texts proclaiming how much I was hating this new job. When I got into the closet classroom (seriously, I am sure my bedroom is bigger), I was quickly followed by a few, also very hot and uncomfortable students. There are 19 in the group but by start time I had only around 7 so we waited in awkward silence for the late-comers to find us in our strange little room at the very, extreme bottom of campus.

Eventually, everyone arrived at it finally struck me, once there were 19 expectant faces in front of me, that I had 2 hours to get through & I did get a bit nervous about filling that time after working in 1 hour blocks in the secondary sector for the last three years.

Back in the saddle

The tute went really well. In fact, both tutes went really well. I was amazed at how much I had missed teaching in an environment where one of my students was not putting a slice of cheese down the front of his pants and then flicking it around the room (true story) and that did not have an overwhelming smell of hormones – ugh. I loved my time teaching HS & I may end up back there again but there is something really wonderful about teaching in a room of (predominantly) smart, engaged students – I had a ball, it started off a bit wobbly and having a detailed teaching plan meant I was reading from a document more often than I would have liked. I explained to the students the reason/s for this and managed to get in a few jokes about the tavern (always a hit) and before I knew it, we were really having a great time.

If I am honest with myself, at one point during the morning when I was bathed with sweat and unable to find my room, I was seriously questioning my decision to do this, and my suitability. At least in a high school there is not far to go in the blazing sun, everything is pretty close together. I had forgotten just how huge some campuses are and my rude reminder was a slap in the face to my triumphant return.

I had visions of  dazzling my students with my ‘back in the saddle’ enthusiasm . .

You love me, you really, really love me . .

But, it took a while to warm them up . . . .

I'm sure I have that class list somewhere ... just talk amongst yourselves for a moment ....

So, it was all worth it in the end.

Even though the logistics of the two days had been nightmarish to say the least, and it has cost me what I will earn at that university for this week, I went home really happy about my decision to return to tertiary teaching. I have no doubts whatsoever that a couple of students will prove to be challenging at the very least – such is the life of a teacher. I also have no doubt that I will have a very special ‘snowflake’ (student) post where I bang my fists on my keyboard and try not to swear too much! But, for the moment, it feels like coming home.


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