In the first two parts of this blog series, I talked about some of the things I wish I had known before becoming a professor. In this third and final part, we’ll dig deeper into the topic and learn more things you should know if you want to become a college teacher. I didn’t have it easy; I grew up in the Bronx and had a single mother who worked two jobs to make ends meet. I had to struggle, take jobs and get scholarships to get through college, not to mention all the student loans I took out to make it work. But I did it and slowly but surely climbed the social ladder. I know what I’m talking about when I talk about my experience as a college professor. So without further ado, let’s learn more about what I wish I had known before becoming a professor.
Explaining is hard
No matter if you’ve been a college professor for eons or you’ve just started out, explaining can be challenging, but you get better at it over time. I’m not the same professor that I was when I first began teaching, and now I’m more at ease with talking to people and explaining complicated theories. As I said in the earlier blogs, I am a linguistics and queer studies professor, and when you get the thick of academia and have to explain more tricky concepts, things get a bit harder. So, you can’t just be reading your PowerPoint verbatim like some people tend to do; you have to gauge the class to see whether people are getting the grasp of a particular theory or not. You need to be ready to answer questions. One of the ways I found to make theories more digestible is to give real-life examples. When I teach about Professor Jasbir Puar, I give the example of 9/11 and conversion therapy to break this dichotomy between the Global South and north to know which one is more progressive to hide xenophobic rhetoric. You need to make your lectures more digestible because not everyone did their Ph.D. thesis on gayspeak and homonationalism. Trust me; you get better with this over time.
Getting tenure is hard.
Everyone will tell you that once you’ve gotten tenure at your current school, your life will be set, but people don’t talk about how complicated and tedious this process is. The general guidelines for getting tenure are getting good performance evaluation, publishing your work, and hoping you’ve done enough to secure yourself the position. Once you’ve got your tenure, you know you are set for life and have secure employment for life, and the former comes with a plethora of benefits, and one of them is no more performance evaluations. However, the 6 years leading to you getting said tenure will be brutal and soul-crushing at times. Your fate will be in the hands of the tenure committee, which is made up of senior faculty ad they are the ones who will decide on your future. This is why we told you to befriend all your college in the last part. People in academia are petty, and it’s better to be on their good grace.
You’ll dream of classes.
Remember those nightmares you had when you were in school about public speaking and being ridiculed in front of a whole class? Well, let me tell you that they don’t go away once you’ve been to the other side of the table. But it does get better, but this will haunt you for at least the first couple of years. You’ll still wake up sweating after a bad dream about one of your classes, but this gets better over time, especially once you’ve come into your own and are more at ease with teaching. This is a good thing because it shows that you care about what you are doing and is a sign that you want to get better at your job.
We are done with this part of the series of things I wish I knew before I became a professor; in the next blog series, we’ll learn some of the tips that all beginning college professors need to know. Sound off in the comments section below and tell us if you want to read more about what it’s like to be a college professor and some tips to be better at the job.