I’m staring at my soup.
It’s tomato with basil, and just a tad burnt. I slurp it down and cut the heat with soft Saltines, which I’ve let sink into the mix. A textbook balances on my knee. A stack of blue books filled with diagnostic essays has been strewn across the bed.
I lean back. I breathe. The breath is sharp and full of worry. Staring back at me from the textbook is a chapter I haven’t read and a set of questions I haven’t prepared to grade. I close the book, lay it down, then return to my soup. It’s getting cold.
I normally eat a full lunch around half-past noon, but today I’ve chosen smaller meals. I had a chicken tender salad after teaching my first class of the day. I poured the bowl of soup after my second class, once I reached home, and now I’m staring at the chunky red swamp like I’ve never had soup with saltines before.
I’m a new adjunct at a local university. I’m fresh out of graduate school with a MFA in Creative and Professional Writing. Today was my first day teaching without the supervising professor life support I had grown used to as a graduate instructor.
I’m thrilled, I’m tired, and I’m strangely aloof. This tomato soup looks delicious, but I’m not sure I’m ready to eat it.
I keep staring at this soup like I keep staring at my stack of blue books. I’m thinking that the soup is pretend,-soup, just like how I think the contents of the blue books are just pretend essays. I tell myself that none of this is real, that I never left graduate school, and that my syllabus, course materials, and lesson plans are all the product of an attentive professor-of-record and not entirely my own creation.
When a hot bubble of tomato mush floats to the surface, I remember that my daydreams aren’t true.
I begin to accept the fact that if any component of my course fails, it’s on me. I am a new instructor teaching Developmental Writing, three days a week, to primarily Freshman classes. I worry like a madwoman about the success of my students, and it’s not because I feel that I’m a bad instructor. Instead, I feel like I’m a false instructor. A phonie. A fake. An imposter.
Teaching as a graduate student, I found comfort in the training wheels the supervising professor provided me with: a shoulder to lean on, a well-developed course plan, and the comfort of knowing that any issues students had with my teaching would be taken up with someone other than myself. Now it seems like a fantasy world. I’m accountable for myself, yes, but I’m also in charge of my course. Such realities frighten me, at times, and stuff me back into my fantasy hole.
Who would put me in charge? No one you say? Of course, this can’t be real!
This sudden transition, while smooth, has left my mind boggled. It’s put me into this warped state of mind. I’ve been out of class now for three hours, and I’ve accomplished very little. I just stare at the bubbles in my soup and mix crackers around the bowl like I’ve nothing better to do and no authority to do it anyway.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my first classes and that I don’t enjoy teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I think that the process of growth that takes place between preparing to teach college and actually teaching college is enormous, and the ease at which the transition has occurred has left me feeling bridled by reflection instead of roaring with confidence.
So, here I stare at my soup, at the end of my first day as an adjunct, wondering if my demeanor is at all related to the strangeness of finishing graduate school and heading out into the adjunct force.
The tomato is growing colder now, but I’m comfortable with lukewarm. Lukewarm, always ready for reheating, is rarely destined for eternal cold.
(Unless you’re a slob who leaves soup out all night.)