13 January

I start teaching in Kenya tomorrow at Kenyatta University. As a 28-year teaching veteran I can honestly say I am scared. Every ‘first day’ as a teacher is fraught with doubts and issues of worthiness and a distinct lack of confidence. I know I must have been scared when I gave my first student teaching lesson at Jamestown High School in New York in 1983, but I don’t remember any details at all of that first day in front of a classroom full of students. They were ninth graders. I was 21. The details of my fears and my feelings are lost to history.

I don’t remember the exact details of my first day as a teacher later in 1983 after college graduation when I was hired at Williamsville East High School in New York. I have a million distinct memories of my seven years teaching high school, but the literal details of how I felt on the very first day are again lost to time. I just plain don’t remember.

Guess what? The same is true of my first day as a college teacher in 1993, when I first taught classes at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in Ohio. No distinct memory of my very first day of teaching remains.

What is the lesson? I will have a million memories of teaching at Kenyatta University, but my first day probably won’t be the most memorable. Some day tomorrow too will be lost to history, as other more meaningful days rise to take its place. First is first, but rarely most important.

I feel like I am ready to jump off of the very high diving board at the public pool, the one that once you climb, no matter your fears, you must make the grand leap from after plugging your nose. You cannot go back down the ladder. That is not an option.

I am truly scared. Why? Because my Western and American-centric points of reference are meaningless and useless. I have no point of reference to help my Kenyan students yet. My barometer to gauge success will not work instantly. All I have are questions, and questions without answers cause anxiety. I am never nervous for a first day of teaching in Cincinnati at the start of a new year. I know my students, even though I don’t know them yet, and I know what I need to do. There are very few unknowns. But this is very different, a new feeling, for I have no shared assumptions with my Kenyan students, and no shared cultural past. I am ignorant, and they have the information I need. The tables are turned. This will be interesting indeed.

This is my classroom.


This is my office.


Why did I finally jump off the very high diving board at Lincoln Pool in Kenmore when I was younger?  Because it was there, because I watched others do it, because I wanted to jump.

Here I go. Wish me luck.

This entry was published on January 12, 2014 at 10:40 am. It’s filed under Random Thoughts, Teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

11 thoughts on “JUMP!

  1. Thanks for the opportunity to JUMP into teaching at CCM! I wish you luck…

  2. I’m so happy for all your students in Kenya. They are truly lucky to have you there. I know you’ll be as big of an inspiration to them as you were ( and are) to me and to everyone who has you as a teacher.

  3. I am envisioning you standing on a desk with your back turned to a group of students. You play the trust game, fall into their arms, effortlessly and weightlessly. And then you will all know what to say, how to be together. Break a leg…!

  4. Cheryl Jordan on said:

    I will be thinking about you and your new students tomorrow. Although I never had you as a teacher you were my high school friend. I remember your talent, creativity and can do spirit. I know you will be wonderful. I remember my first day teaching music at a Native American school on the Onondaga reservation. I felt very nervous too but I watched, listened and asked questions. I let my students teach me and I was blessed. Enjoy your first day. Sending a prayer too.
    Cheryl Jordan

  5. Beverly Croskery on said:

    Reminded me of my first days teaching as well. I know this – you are a wonderful reader of people. You will soon discover exactly what is the right thing to do and how to communicate your tremendous breadth of knowledge. They will understand. They will learn.

  6. Allison Astgen on said:

    I have been busy with life (and opening a show, so I feel slightly justified) but I last left you on, I believe, January 4th. Sleepily, I am catching up on your blog, and I feel the need to leave you a note that I wish you could have received in time for your new class. I really don’t know what I would have said. Let’s assume something grand…..and expansive …..and worth the time to read. Let’s assume that. Awe…..how eloquent of me.

    Anyway- I want to reiterate how lovely you are detailing this experience. You can communicate your experience in a way that makes me want to see more of the world than I already planned for. And it makes me look at life again in the ways (forgotten in some instances) that I was taught to see. It is an amazing gift to have a chance to see the world in a different light.

    Be present. THAT’S what I would have said. How eloquent of me – I have always been known to be eloquent.

    Anyway, I will get to read more tomorrow, and hopefully bring myself to date. I wonder if there is a Super Bowl interest? Richard-wonderful work, and I look forward to putting in some time to catch up with your travels. On a side note-please tell Consolata that I told the story about your luggage atop her head to a couple of people tonight (in Phoenix,AZ) and they both, for lack of better terms, decided she was badass. (My husband, Luke, and I later had a conversation about how great it was to have a conversation about Consolata in AZ). Needless to say, I am so very proud to be able to talk about this to people.

    • Thank you Allison. How great to hear from you in Arizona. I have never given myself the assignment to write something every day, and it is making this experience very rich. I love sharing it, and love knowing that a story made it to Arizona. Consolata is a super-star. Thank you for your support, for listening.


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