The new semester, my second one at William & Mary, started with some big changes that pretty much turned my world upside down. Last semester, I worked as a tutor and took a couple of classes. That was nice. I got to know lots of nice W&M students, learned many new things, and felt that I could somewhat comprehend American college life. I was one of the people swemming late at night, just to drag my tired body into class the next morning, barely able to keep my eyes open. Or, if it was not Swem, I would be up just as late, hanging out at the German House, chatting with friends, eating freshly made baked goods, or just hanging out with friends.
This semester, however, everything suddenly seems reversed. As of now, I am actually teaching my own 202 German class. It is not so much the teaching that confuses me, though. I think I have enough working experience to confidently teach a class. But the whole role reversal is somewhat intriguing. Suddenly, the students I used to be among see me as their professor. The first question I am being asked when I enter the classroom is no longer “Hey! How are you?”, but more often something like “So, when exactly is this paper due?” Also, as the language in question is German, they address me with the formal “sie” rather than the informal “du”, which also makes a huge difference. But the worst thing by far is a certain element of fear that I can sense in them whenever I speak to them in German. I keep telling myself that this is nothing personal, but rather them being overwhelmed (terrified?) by having a native speaker teach the class.I don’t know if I can actually believe that, though.
Funny enough, though, I ran into another professor this morning, who was bending over what seemed a ridiculous amount of notes and textbook. As it turned out, his world had been turned upside down, too. After having been a professor for a substantial amount of time, he was now actually taking a class in his own department. When I met him, he was cramming for a quiz, and flat out admitted that he was very anxious about it because he knew that everybody, he himself, his professor, and his fellow students, would be expecting him to perform extraordinarily well. Given my own situation, I found this rather ironic, as it seemed to be almost a reversal of my new role.
During the past week, I realized that it is probably not possible for me or him to turn our lives in those classrooms right side up again. But I do hope that my students will at some point learn that there is no reason to be terrified. I am still the same person. Only upside down.