Some thoughts on my first semester as a full-time “professor.”

I always thought I’d end up teaching someday, but it’s funny how I backed into it. I now feel comfortable referring to it as my “third career” after first working in television, then in public relations for more than 20 years. I’m grateful to my students for helping me figure out how to teach, and I’m grateful to the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT (one of my alma maters) for inviting me back to teach again. I think I’ve found my niche, even though I’m working harder, and longer hours, than I have in 15 years or more.

Not since I worked for the Galveston Bay Foundation have I had a job where I feel like I was making a difference. And as I watch what’s happening on the coast with the oil spill, I feel an incredible emotional bond with everyone affected by that spill. It’s tough to be so far away and feel so helpless. But more on that in the next blog.

So, while I’m pretty sure I taught my kids a few things this semester, what did I learn? Oh, so much.

First of all, I learned that I love the kids. They’re bright, they’re energetic, they’re motivated and they’re funny. I’m grateful they didn’t appear to think this old broad was a total dork for trying to be “hip” and relate to them, and I’m glad they seemed to enjoy my PR war stories. I’ve never been one to act my age, and I think they’ve gone a long way toward keeping me young. The kids taught me things about their generation, about the youth culture, and about what’s inside their heads. I really mean it when I tell them I hope they all keep in touch.

Next I learned that my time management skills aren’t what they should be. All the faculty told me the first semester’s the hardest, and I’m sure that’s true. There was a big difference between teaching one graduate level class (with 10 students) and teaching three required heavy writing classes and one capstone ethics class, all with upper-level students. In a few weeks, from contract confirmation to first day of class, I had to read six books (not including the ones I read and rejected for one class), prepare lectures, syllabi, figure out what to put on tests, get an office organized and learn a couple of new computer systems.

I also learned that it takes longer to grade stuff than I ever dreamed possible. Some of that is my fault—I can’t just scribble a few margin notes and put a grade on the page. I need to explain what they did wrong, tell them what I like, and coach them into becoming better writers. I edit the papers, ask questions (“What were you thinking?” and “Do you own a thesaurus?” were two of my favorites) and make the occasional snarky comment designed to show them the error of their ways. The ethics class required ensuring they understood the concepts as well as write about them. I’m so grateful the kids were patient with me when it took too long to return their work.

I learned that Mulberry Street is named for the mulberry trees and it’s not a good idea to park there during the spring. Purple grackle poop is probably not good for car paint.

There were days when I felt like I was only 4 pages ahead of the kids, then a tenured professor told me that happens all the time, even with experience. I’m grateful that I never woke up one morning with no clue what I would teach that day—I’m told that has happened to many busy, experienced professors. Fortunately my decades of professional experience were easy to draw on, too.

I appreciate the kids letting me treat them like young professionals, rather than mere students. As seniors working at internships in PR firms, nonprofits, and large corporations, they ARE pros already, and deserve to be treated as such, but still in need of mentoring and coaching. I collaborated with them, and we learned many things together.

I am eternally grateful to have a husband who, first and foremost, knows his way around the kitchen without a map and second, knows how to do laundry. I would have starved to death and looked like a homeless person without him. (I did lose 15 pounds this semester.)

So it was with some genuine sadness mixed with pride that I attended graduation today, live Tweeting from the faculty rows and cheering on my graduating seniors as they walked across the stage, waving and smiling to family and friends. I’m sad that I won’t see you in my classroom, or hanging out in my office, but proud that I was able to play a small part in your transformation from student to professional.

Please stay in touch, Class of 2010. And remember, punctuation goes INSIDE the quotes.

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