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.