Yesterday was my first day at my new job (still teaching, but at a different school). I spent the morning unpacking boxes and settling in. More accurately, I nested, which is what I did in my last office. When I taught high school, I tried to make my room my own, but it was difficult. I wanted a space away from students, but they came by during my planning period, and I either had to chase them off or listen and help them. I couldn’t always do the latter, but chasing them away wasn’t effective either. For those of you without children or who have never taught school, some kids have absolutely no sense of boundaries. Couple that with a co-dependent alcoholic, and it’s no wonder why some students found me weird and why I continued drinking myself into the dirt.
Anyway, that changed when I left public education and began teaching at a technical college in my area. The drinking abated for a while, but then it crept right back. My favorite part of my new job (aside from the fact that I no longer had to break up fights) was my office. Even though I taught a mind-boggling load of classes–seven during a semester, five of which were first-year composition–I had a space to which I could retreat. And retreat I did, to recharge, to eat, to listen to music, drink coffee, and just enjoy some solitude.
After settling and nesting and consuming too much coffee in my new office, I walked across campus to the first day of new faculty orientation. I felt queasy the moment I stepped out of my office. Though I’d eaten before, I was still hungry and knew I’d get something, sit down, and eat in front of people…which terrified me. I suspect that has a lot to do with tense family meals together (too much to go into here and probably best left to my therapist). I also dreaded walking into the room not knowing anyone and being thrown into the mix. I focused on my breath, reminded myself that I was OK and wasn’t the only one nervous. I found my way to the orientation room, which was packed:
Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but I freaked out a bit nonetheless because people were sitting together at tables. I much prefer side-by-side chairs, since that kind of situation doesn’t generally encourage much conversation. I looked around for a place to sit and–fortunately?–found an opening at a table with my department. My department head smiled and greeted me and then introduced me to others at the table. Gah. I nodded and said hello and sat down, fidgeting with things in my bag that didn’t need fidgeting with. I grab a little bit of food and bolted it down, since I also can’t stand talking while I eat.
After lunch wrapped up, the facilitator grabbed a mic and said, “Now, I’d like for us to go around the room and introduce ourselves. Tell us where you taught most recently and add something interesting about yourself.”
Great, I thought, an icebreaker. I don’t make my students do these because people don’t like being put on the spot–
“And we’ll start with Robert.”
I blinked. There was the facilitator, grinning and holding out the mic to me. I didn’t have time to think; I just reacted, taking the mic and suddenly pretending I was introducing myself to a group of students instead of peers. I blanked for a second on something interesting to share (I could have set the bar by saying, “I’m an alcoholic in recovery with seven months of sobriety,” I suppose) and then I said that we have a lot of animals and that my son desperately wants a snake. I passed the mic and sat back, proud that I hadn’t broken out into a heavy sweat.
The rest of the orientation went smoothly and, since writing the first portion of this post this morning, I went to the second part of the orientation which was in a classroom. I didn’t have to interact with folks except for an uncomfortable icebreaker at the end. I soldiered through it and beat a hasty retreat when it was over.
Students of mine have often asked how on Earth I can teach when I’m such an introvert and get rattled by social situations (I share my oddities freely in class). Again, I remind them of the difference between introversion and shyness, and I point out that the power dynamic inherent in a teacher/student situation, no matter that it’s college and the students in some cases are older than me, automatically puts me more at ease than, say, a party. In the classroom, I know what I’m doing; I’m not so sure of myself in you approach me in a hallway and strike up a conversation.
I have more meetings, luncheons, and meetings to go before the week’s done, and then classes start Monday. I’ll make it through, and I might even surprise myself by doing more just making it through. Maybe I’ll jump in even more and speak up. Maybe I’ll make a friend.
We’ll see. One social, potential-crisis at a time.
Music listened to while writing this post:
- Music from the Motion Picture Victoria by Nils Frahm (http://www.erasedtapes.com/store/index/ERATP071)
2. Family Tree by Nick Drake (http://www.amazon.com/Family-Tree-Nick-Drake/dp/B000PTYS2W)