After walking into the classroom confidently on my first day of teaching, scrawling my name in capital letters across the blackboard, and handing out star-shaped nametags for the students, there was an awkward silence. I sat at my desk at the front of the room and no one spoke. As I stared at their nametags and wondered who would break the silence, I had a sudden and illuminating realization–
it was me.
I was supposed to speak now, I was the one expected to fill the hush and endow the students with 90-education-packed minutes. That’s when the true horizon of teaching loomed before me—this was more than banging on the desk as students fought each other to share their opinions on current events, as I had fantasized. This was the type of calling that only the brave may answer.
I immediately panicked and pointed at a nametag at random. I asked them about any current events they were interested in. They said the March on Wall Street campaigns. I said “good, good,” and then there was silence again.
I told them to take out their pens and papers and spent the next 30 minutes asking them to write about their a great conversation or interesting headline they had or read recently. Every now and then I would interrupt the scribbling with assurances that this WOULD be graded; it sounded very teacher and important. They certainly looked more serious after I said it.
I hadn’t planned for what would come after the nametags. I hadn’t remembered that I was the one supposed to speak. I was so used to sitting on the other side of the teacher’s desk, just listening, that I forgot how to voice my own ideas in a classroom.
The silence that day was a valuable lesson. Not a golden one, but valuable.
As I wait out that awkward silence on every first day of every class, I remember that my next words are the ones that will affect the course of my students’ experience. It’s daunting, but fulfilling. The students fill out their nametags and tentatively raise their hands to answer that very first question. Rather than always try to pack the silence with my tutelage, I must instead teach them to fill the silence themselves, to use their own words to become masters of a craft that will be utilized in every aspect of their life.