The Pros & Cons of being a (Really) Young College Professor

To elaborate/expand on Amma’s post from last month about working on college campuses, this site is so fortunate as to have someone who not only works with college students, but has somehow been entrusted to teach them stuff. Yeah. The best part? I’m teaching a Student Success class and giving these kids (yes, they’re technically adults) life advice. Somehow, I just don’t feel qualified to do this, considering I still live at home with my parents and can barely pay my bills on time. But here I am, entrusted with the minds of America’s youth…

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Since about my junior of college, my goal in life has been to become an English professor. After finishing my Master’s degree this past May, I was lucky enough to be offered two amazing part-time teaching opportunities at community colleges. I never thought my dream would come true so soon, nor did I have the slightest bit of confidence that someone would hire me fresh out of graduate school. Nonetheless, I went on the interviews, spoke from the passion within me for teaching and learning, and was essentially hired on the spot from BOTH institutions. Having been in the gig for a little over a month, I’ve found there are so many pros and cons to being so young in a job that is typically for snooty, snobbish, and ivy-educated of the world.

Pro: The students and I share a common pop culture.

It’s awesome for all of us to be able to talk about TV or music or celebrities before class. They appreciate that I can chat with them on stuff besides the class material, and I think it makes me seem more like a real human rather than just this all-knowing being imposing my knowledge on them. It also shows them that I do other things besides grade their work and read textbooks all day.

Con: Sometimes they talk to me like I’m their friend, rather than their teacher.

The flip side of the above pro is that some of them think that I’m their buddy, and therefore not superior to them. I treat them as equals, but they’ll get upset when I have to be tough or tell them to stop chit chatting during my lectures. Keeping this very fine boundary line is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. They’re only a few years younger than me (and some are my age or older). Establishing authority is something I’ve had to learn the hard way, and fast.

Pro: I have a fresh take on some pretty antiquated traditions.

My students nearly shouted that I was their favorite teacher when I told them I don’t believe in exams, that exams only show that you can memorize and regurgitate information to me. Their excitement diminishes when I explain that essays and writing assignments are much better judges of understanding. They also love that I don’t lecture them for the entire class period, because in my experience, long lectures are not conducive to learning. Rather, I divide the class into part lecture, part small group activities, and part class discussion. I’ve talked about this format with my supervisors and they are all for it.

Con: I’m still learning how to teach.

As a professor, I don’t have a degree in education, so I don’t know a lot of teaching techniques. I have to take what I’ve gleaned from professors I’ve had in the past, combined with advice from colleagues and my own personal philosophies to teach the students. One of the classes I teach is developmental writing. Writing was always a natural talent for me, so teaching others the basics has been extremely difficult and I’ve found that the only way to do so is through one-on-one instruction. The other class I teach is about student success. Again, I was a naturally motivated and ambitious student; how do I teach this? Thankfully my students are very vocal with constructive criticism for me, as are my colleagues.

Pro: It wasn’t too long ago that I was in college myself.

I still remember walking into my first college classes and how nervous I was. It was a kind of culture shock for me, and I still hold on to that memory when I teach. I teach mostly first-year community college students, who have their own unique set of struggles and challenges. Being a recent grad, I’m extremely sensitive to those challenges and try my best to accommodate my students so they can be successful.

Con: They try to walk all over me.

“Can we leave early today?” “How about we skip that assignment?” “I promise I’ll get the work done for next class.” “Can we get a deadline extension?” These are just a sampling of the questions I get nearly every day. They mistake my sympathy for weakness; I have to be tough with them pretty regularly or else they treat me like a doormat. I don’t like to be a hard-ass with them, because that isn’t helpful to anyone. They think I don’t notice that they’re texting or not paying attention or talking to each other. Little do they know I see all of this because I’ve tried to get away with it myself. I simply make mental notes of these students and their participation grades will suffer.

Pro: Students respect that they can relate to me.

This sort of ties into the pop culture I mentioned, but it goes further. I typically have no problem sharing my personal struggles from college with my students because I remember them. I admit frequently that I was not always a perfect, model student, yet here I am, accomplishing goals and dreams right before their eyes. In their eyes, I’m both a successful “grown-up,” but also someone who’s still learning the ropes, just like them.

Con: I often get mistaken for a student around campus.

Getting reprimanded for using the copier, receiving funny looks as I walk into the adjunct work room, blatant stares as I walk confidently to the front of the classroom and upload my presentations. These are all typical, daily occurrences for me. I often wear my ID badge (loathsome thing) just to avoid these scenarios. It was funny the first week or two, but on a daily basis, it’s just frustrating. I have to dress extra professionally and wear high heels to make myself appear to be a faculty member, but I guess one can never be too sure…

All this aside, I absolutely LOVE my job. Sure, I’m not exactly a “model adult” but I do care about each one of them, and they really seem to be learning. It’s already midterms and several students have said I’m their favorite. It’s probably due to my internet meme-themed power points and Mean Girls references, but honestly whatever gets them to listen (and like me).

**Originally published on wanderlustingmillenial.blog.com  

Samantha Glassford

A born-and-raised Jersey girl with a chronic case of wanderlust, Samantha spends her days reading, writing, and planning adventures. She currently teaches classes at the community college while living at home with her parents, trying and failing to become a part of the proverbial real world. Her dream is for someone to pay her for writing and traveling, but in reality she'll probably be teaching forever. Follow her mundane musings on Twitter @SamanthaG2012, and check out her personal blog, wanderlustingmillenial.blog.com

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