How I Learned to Stop Worrying

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My guest blogger today is Robert Curran, a graduate student in English at Florida Atlantic University.  He served in the Army in the field of military intelligence/interrogation but was injured before deploying overseas.  His hobbies include ghost hunting and watching cult films such as The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension.  While not traversing the state in search of poltergeists, Robert lives in Boca Raton, Florida, with his three-legged cat, Peg.In this post, Robert meditates on the complex emotions connected to teaching—regret, fear, joy, worry, concern, and more.  Reading it pushes me to think about my own emotional investment in teaching, a theme that I think has been developing for me this semester.  I’ve taught all the same texts in the course for first-year GTAs that Robert is taking for me, but this semester I am paying more attention to those readings that speak to the affective dimension of teaching.  I wonder…do any of you also wrestle with the emotional components of teaching composition? When I first started graduate school, I didn’t want to be a GTA.  Thanks to the G.I. Bill, I was doing fine financially and thought the added stress of teaching might overwhelm me.  That said, I did feel a tinge of regret whenever I walked past the GTA office and saw how many of my fellow graduate students were involved in teaching.  Again, I sometimes felt this way when I overheard my fellow graduate students discussing their lesson plans for an upcoming class.  Was I missing out on something?  Could teaching help me to be a better student?  Maybe I would feel more connected with my fellow graduate students if I was in the trenches alongside of them. I knew that GTAs taught College Writing I and II here at Florida Atlantic University.  I looked back at my transcript and saw that I earned C’s in both of these classes.  Would the University even want someone who did so poorly in these classes teaching them?  I also wondered if I would be up to the task of not only teaching students but also motivating them.  I replied to an email saying that I was interested in a GTA position for the upcoming semester.  After not hearing back from the University for some time, I felt that they must have chosen their GTAs and not picked me. Shortly after I had given up hope of being chosen as a GTA, I received an email saying that I was selected.  The first two emotions that struck me were joy and fear, the same sort of feeling I had when I first got off the bus and arrived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for Basic Training.  These two emotions oscillated wildly from one extreme to the other until I started teaching. At this point in the semester, I’ve stopped worrying about teaching before the start of each class.  I enjoy teaching (though that might be because I like hearing myself speak).  I find it surprising how quickly the class period passes.  Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish all of the things I want to do.  Grading papers was a daunting task at first. I soon learned to grade a certain number of papers each day—and to limit distractions during the process.  While I used to have more time for socializing with friends, I now have to plan in advance times that I can visit with them.  Rather than sit idly during my office hours, I use that time to work on classwork and grade papers.  I was never good a planning my day but teaching has made me somewhat better at it. I wish I could better explain how I stopped worrying before classes.  I think part of it was familiarity.  I got to know my students and they began to know me.  Neither of us turned out to the scary monsters we feared.  Now worry is replaced with concern.  I want my students to do well.  That said, I will take concern over worry any day of the week.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.