Tomorrow is the first day of Autumn Quarter classes at Ohio State, where I teach. I’m starting my 30th year as a teacher, eleven of them here at OSU, and each year, when it’s time to think about walking into that classroom the next day, I recall a story from some years back, when I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska. At the annual department meeting the day before classes began, our chair told a story about one year, the evening before the first day of classes, he found a young man in Andrews Hall, home of the English Department, standing in the doorway to a classroom, just looking in. Our chair asked the young man if he could help him with something. The young man, with wonder in his voice said, “My Freshman Composition class meets in this room tomorrow. I just wanted to see it.”
I’ve never forgotten that story. I’ve never forgotten the tale of that young man, about to embark on his college career, in awe of a classroom where he would soon sit, where he would write essays and talk about language and literature, where he would be a college student. For those of us who have taught for a long time, it’s good to remember our own feelings of excitement and anticipation when we were students walking into into our college classrooms for the first time. A feeling not so different from the way we felt when we taught our first classes. I remember how over-prepared I was for the first meeting of the composition course I taught. I didn’t get through a third of what I’d planned. When that first class was over, though, I felt elated. I felt that I’d finally ended up in the place where I belonged. Thirty years later, I’m still there, and as much as I sometimes grumble over the energy that teaching takes from my own writing, I still have that feeling of elation when I teach a class. I still feel I’m doing what I was meant to do. For those about to teach for the first time, I hope you feel that same elation, that same sense of accomplishment. Despite the frustrations you’re sure to experience along the way, may you always know the excitement and worth of teaching. May we all remember that teachers and students alike are privileged to be where they are. That freshman at the University of Nebraska looked into his composition classroom as if it were a holy place. In many ways it is, as is any place of learning. Sometimes I come close to forgetting that, but, when I do, I remember the story of that young man. In some ways, I think I’ve been teaching toward him all my life.