By Rebecca Frazer
I stood with a pasted smile facing a class of 31 students. Their 62 eyes bored through me like bullets. I wondered if they could tell I had spent the night before running down the halls of an old insane asylum.
In the summers, I work as a contracted speech and debate instructor for summer camps aimed at 7th-12th graders. On the morning described above, I was supposed to be kicking off a week of top- notch speech instruction, but when my fellow instructor and I had arrived the evening before class for set-up, everything went wrong.
Our facility was a looming, deserted, unlighted building that had once been an insane asylum. We entered a key code, fumbled through an endless maze of dark, oak-paneled halls and nervously flipped on the florescent lights of our assigned classroom. Just as we began to breathe, the glaring lights started flashing robotically like a ticking time bomb. On the last flash, every fire alarm in the building blasted our ears.
We ran. Like two chihuahuas in a thunderstorm, we ran: down the halls and staircases of the dark, screeching, moldy former insane asylum and out the door.
After a very long night, I stumbled into bed in the wee hours of the morning. Just a few hours later, I stood, exhausted, with those 62 eyes boring through my soul, wondering if this camp would be the first massive failure of my short teaching career.
The camp was a huge success, and not because of me. God gave me 31 students who graciously looked past my weaknesses and loved me.
I am certain I made countless flubs and led my students down many rabbit trails that morning. But they stuck with me. They smiled, laughed and asked excellent questions. And by the end of the morning, my composure had returned and I felt prepared and excited to invest in those students for a full four days. I am no professor, but after teaching speech camps, I understand something: professors have rough days, too.
As students, we tend to think we are the only ones who are exhausted in that 4 p.m. class or who are juggling a crazy school schedule while grieving over a family tragedy. If only our professors un- derstood the stress and dense material what we were dealing with. If only they were more engaging in speech, better at explaining material or more merciful in deadline enforcement!
Eventually, many of us sit in a class and brood. We disengage ourselves from the material. We think about a dozen better ways the professor could be teaching the class.
I write “us” because I found myself in this position a couple of weeks ago in a science class. I was not tracking with my professor’s teaching style, and I was grouchy about personal things, so I zoned out, did homework in the back of the room and inwardly pouted about my professor. At least two-thirds of my class seemed equally zoned-out.
But then later it hit me. What would the class look like if we were trying to engage the professor: laughing, answering questions and making intelligent comments? Doubtless, the professor would be more at ease, which might lead to clearer teaching and explanation.
Professors are simply learned people—humans like all of us. They also battle through stress, exhaustion and family tragedies. The question is: are we as students committed to helping our professors teach us?
I know too well what it feels like to teach zoned-out and apathetic students. Frustrating and draining are perfect descriptors. I also know that committed students can turn a teacher’s rough day into a success. I challenge you: stop being the zombies in the back row and start realizing that your professor may not have had a perfect day and may need that eye contact, laughter and all-around engagement that only you can offer. I had to run around at night in a moldy, former insane asylum to understand this idea. Will you join me in changing?