Academia · Humor · Teaching Undergraduates

Some Pros and Cons of Teaching Undergraduates

Undergraduates nowadays tend to be a more docile crowd than this bunch.
Undergraduates nowadays tend to be a more docile crowd than this bunch.

Pro: You get to work with a subject you really love, all the time.

As others slump off to their offices to enter data into spreadsheets or embark upon marathon meetings about meetings, you are exploring the complexities of 15th-century Florentine art with your students. What variety! What mental stimulation!

Con: You get to work with a subject you really love, all the time.

It’s sometimes really hard to remain in love with your interest when it’s also your job, and yet every time you teach that 101 course, you must manage to conjure up the awe and magic of a first discovery. Sometimes, after teaching History 101, all I feel like doing is looking up yoga postures, or reading about Middle Eastern politics, or anything other than delving back into my own area of expertise.

Pro: You’re not limited by the strictures of a normal 9-5 schedule.

It’s 9:30am on a Wednesday and I’m still in bed. If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll be daydreaming about what I’d like to include in my lecture on Thursday.

Con: You’re not limited by the strictures of a normal 9-5 schedule.

On Friday and Saturday evenings when others are out doing whatever it is that people with 9-5 jobs do at night, I am often grading with grim determination or attempting to sneak in a little extra research for my own projects.

Pro: You get really good at public speaking and at projecting your voice.

I can talk to my hard-of-hearing grandmother on the phone without a hitch, order in the noisiest restaurant, and get anyone’s attention from across the room.

Con: You get really good at public speaking and at projecting your voice.

“You’re being really loud,” complained my self-conscious teenage sister, as I launched into a hilarious exposition on Medieval medical practices. “People are staring at us.”

Pro: Your work-schedule fluctuates with the seasons and makes you feel more connected to the organic passage of time.

That bittersweet feeling of approaching fall and returning to school gets me every year. Same with the mounting anticipation as late spring builds towards summer, and students and teachers look forward to their long break. Not to mention winter break! It’s the perfect time to hibernate and ruminate, because that’s all that anyone really feels like doing then, anyways.

Con: Your work-schedule fluctuates with the seasons and makes you feel more connected to the organic passage of time.

Late fall and late spring mean 100+ final exams to grade, and if you’re very lucky, your school will give you a more than 48-hour window of time after the final exam in which to grade them.

Pro: It’s easy to joke around with your students and go off on tangents.

It’s almost like getting to star in your own improv comedy show several afternoons a week! Everyone loves a good crack about the Emperor Caligula’s horrible tendencies.

Con: It’s easy to joke around with your students and go off on tangents.

“Where was I?” you ask after you and your students get done with a diverting discussion about everyone’s favorite pop singers. They shrug, either feigning ignorance or sincerely not knowing, and you have the sinking realization that your tangent was probably more interesting than your lecture on the Crusades.

Pro: Teaching a subject makes you more familiar with that subject yourself.

For some reason, the brain seems to retain things that you’ve taught far more comprehensively than things you’ve simply studied. After several go’s at the same course, you will surprise even yourself with your newly-encyclopedic knowledge.

Con: Teaching a subject makes you more familiar with that subject yourself.

Just because you can recite all the monarchs of England in order from William the Conquerer to Henry VIII doesn’t mean that everyone else wants a demonstration.

Pro: Within the bounds of this class, you’re pretty much the ultimate authority.

Don’t like grading essays? Don’t assign ‘em! Feel like having an hour-long class discussion on Benjamin Franklin’s Deist beliefs? By all means do so. Same goes if you want to offer extra credit, or petulantly withhold extra credit from your class because they’ve been sneaking glimpses at facebook during your lectures all semester.

Con: Within the bounds of this class, you’re pretty much the ultimate authority.

“Who would assign this torturously-written Victorian translation of a Medieval chronicle? It’s so dry and inaccessible!” My students mused, frustrated. “That would be me,” I thought to myself with shame.

Pro: You get to meet lots of new people, all the time.

It’s so fascinating to see all the varieties of human personality, and I mean that without sarcasm. Different students respond in vastly different ways to the same material, and sometimes you will find yourself enlightened by their new perspectives, too.

Con: You get to meet lots of new people, all the time.

I’ve called a student by the wrong name more than once. It’s easy when you meet a parade of new people every semester, who are replaced by another batch just when you’re becoming familiar with them.

Pro: You start thinking of yourself as some kind of sage or guru.

Relatives and friends will be impressed by the new air of authority you’ve acquired since you’ve been teaching.

Con: You start thinking of yourself as some kind of sage or guru.

You will become wildly offended if someone else dares to try teaching you about something, even if that topic is far outside your own area of expertise. That “teaching tone” in your voice will also warn friends and bystanders that an informative monologue is imminent.

 

 

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