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Back to Campus... I'm not ready

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

photo of a magnolia tree on a college campus

This one is for the students…

Guess what, y’all … I’m not ready to go back to campus either.

This is not to say that I do not love my job. I do love my job. I love being an instructor. I feel grateful to be able to teach writing at a small university. I love that I work in a building with a Starbucks and a bunch of hilarious, weirdo, nerds who play speed chess in the food court and disc golf in the courtyard.

However, the closer I approached the first day of school, the more my brain was telling me, "I'm not ready!"

For any student who is begrudgingly returning to school dragging one leg behind them, know that I am right there with you.

I drove onto campus yesterday listening to my renegades, rodeo, and outlaws mix. I get real country when I get insecure. I was taking on a new challenge this semester -- teaching a new syllabus for my existing courses and adding a new online fiction-writing course. And when I want to feel confident, I put on my boots and listen to Waylon. When my playlist rolled around to Dolly Parton's "Wildflowers", I realized where all these feelings were coming from. All this change had me feeling like a freshman leaving home for the first time. I was homesick but determined. I was open to new ideas, but clinging to old ones. I was nervous and also ready.

Every fall, I teach first-year freshmen. And the truest statement about teaching these fresh faces is they do not know what they do not know.

They have never experienced navigating a college campus. College campuses – to be honest– are architecturally designed like a hedge maze to keep the students from wandering too far off campus. I’m not new to campus and still discover little nooks and crannies or shortcuts between buildings I didn’t know before. And inside the buildings are not much better. The room numbers do not always go in a reasonable sequence and sometimes there are these dead-end hallways. The most common question I get on the first day is, “Where is the bathroom?”

I was a first-generation college student. I was so dumb. I had brown hair, for crying out loud! All of my information about college came from the television show A Different World. I was a complete and total rube. My roommate made fun of my accent, which is strange because I went to college in Kentucky right across the state line. My many colloquialisms were throwing her off, like when I would announce I was “fixing to go to class!” or when my mom sent me a care package full of Vienna sausages and I kept referring to them as "Viennies!".

Being so green also meant I didn’t know how to ask for help. Or that I even could. I relied on my fellow classmates for all my academic advice and they were also idiots. They were skipping class to watch Jerry Springer. The night before my final exam for a truly boring World History class taught by the professor who wrote the textbook, I was freaking out that I was going to blow it. I called my mom. Instead, my dad answered. He said, “If doesn’t work out, you can always come back home.” He meant that to be comforting, but the whole point of going away to college was to escape the craziness at home. I pulled an all-nighter and squeaked out a good enough grade to pass.

Luckily I know that I didn’t know anything when I went to college, and I try to keep that in mind when I am interacting with my own students. When I started teaching in Florida, the First Year Composition program’s policy was to meet with each student at least twice a semester. Because all freshmen were required to take composition, our director told us, “These students sit in classrooms with another hundred students. You might be the only teacher who learns their name.” After I moved on to Kennesaw State University, I kept my conference policy even though it was not required. Primarily because I can course-correct some of the misguided advice they have been given about how “all essays” are to be written or how their “friend said” they didn’t need to purchase the textbook. I find myself bewildered sometimes, interrogating them with questions like, “Who told you that?” and “Why do you think that?”

But mostly, it reminds me of the numerous idiotic things I said to professors.

I said so many dumb things. I thought so many dumb things. I tried so many dumb things.

Not all writers want to be teachers. The goal is always to make enough money writing novels so I don’t have to have a second job. However, I’m also aware that without the interaction between me and my students, I wouldn’t have much to write about. Using earlier this summer break as an example, if I am left to my own devices, I would likely live a shut-in life – ordering food, watching TV, and avoiding human interaction. And if I am not interacting with other humans, then what am I going to write about? How am I going to eventually write my teen detective series on a college campus if I cut myself off from the source? That would be so dumb of me.

If anyone is needed a little country confidence in the form of a song about leaving home, being a wildflower, going against the grain, or having ambition, here are a few suggestions:

  • "Wildflowers" by Dolly Parton

  • "Wide Open Spaces" by The Dixie Chicks

  • "Amarillo by Morning" by George Strait

  • "Mama Tried" by Merle Haggard

  • "Late Morning Lullaby" by Brandi Carlisle

  • "Merry Go Round" by Kacey Musgraves

  • "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight" by Emmylou Harris

Read Books. Wear Boots.



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