by admin | August 29, 2013 6:57 pm
Forty years ago this semester I started night classes at Kilgore College. I took nine hours while working full-time during the day at the Made Rite Bottling Co. in Longview. I operated the bottle-washing machine. That duty consisted of perching above the wide conveyor belt and making sure the bottles stayed upright before they entered the belly of this beast. Occasionally I had to pull out a bottle with a broken or chipped neck. When the line broke down up where the clean bottles were filled with Dr Pepper or RC Cola, or back where other workers were loading the dirty bottles, I could steal a few minutes to read my assignments in World History or English. I remember those days fondly — simpler times, my future ahead of me, a world of possibilities awaiting.
It is funny how things turn out. After more than three decades in journalism, a failed attempt to launch a new career as a home inspector, and 18 months of being self-underemployed as a freelance writer, I started teaching journalism full-time at Kilgore College this week. It is an answer to a prayer — undeserved perhaps but humbly appreciated.
I have never taught full-time before, though for nine years I taught one journalism course each semester at SFA. Now I am teaching four courses plus serving as adviser of the student newspaper and co-adviser of the yearbook. That is a full load, to be sure, though it pales compared to what a typical high school teacher carries. I’m sure not whining. I have spent most of the summer getting ready, with the considerable help of Bettye Craddock, the legendary instructor who I am succeeding — not replacing, since that is not possible after her 29-year stint at KC. Bettye and Rufus Lovett, who has taught photography here for 36 years, have built one of the finest journalism and photography programs found at any community college in the country. My first goal is not screw it up.
My long-term goal is to do whatever I can to make the program better, of course. But first I have to survive the first few weeks, learn to pace myself in class, discern how to be a teacher and engage the students. The small classes feel fairly natural, since my approach isn’t much different than the coaching of reporters that I did for years in newsrooms. And the subject matter is the same — reporting, editing, layout and design.
But my largest class — Introduction to Mass Communication — wakes me up in the middle of the night with the cold sweats. There are 31 students packed in the classroom, since the course is a prerequisite for several fields of study at KC. I drew a seating chart in the dim hopes of learning everyone’s name, a task I might accomplish by Halloween. Trying to engage nearly three dozen students for whom I’m all that stands between them and lunch every Monday, Wednesday and Friday is going to be a challenge for this rookie instructor.
The first class — after taking a roll that seemed to last forever since I was placing their names on the seating chart — I followed my predecessor’s pattern and made a pitch for students to join the yearbook or newspaper staffs. Next they filled out index cards with basic information about themselves and why they were in the class. I showed them the textbook and assigned readings, and then talked about what we would be doing in the next few weeks.
I glanced up at the clock on the back wall. Hoo-boy. Twenty minutes had elapsed, leaving a half-hour to go. I was nearly out of material. Either I need to talk a lot slower or come up with more subject matter. I began to improvise, talking about the revolution of mass media over the past 20 years — the approximate lifespan of nearly everybody in the classroom, how smart phones are only six years old, whatever popped into my rapidly racing brain.
Eyes were glazing. I asked questions and received scattered replies, trying to fill time. I cut them loose 10 minutes early. It was the first day of class, after all. Clearly, I was going to have to get better at this in a hurry, or it was going to be a long semester.
The second class went more smoothly. I came with twice as much material and got the students’ attention when I told them a prospective employer would check their Facebook page before hiring them to see if they had posted any unsavory photos of themselves, or other inappropriate material. Soon they were arguing back and forth about privacy issues, how easy it was to get into someone’s page even if it was set to private, GPS tracking on smart phones and so forth. This was more like it, I thought.
I have a long way to go before my teaching skills are where they need to be. This first year will be the toughest. But I have been given a chance to teach about the profession I love, and that is a blessing indeed.
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