Isn't the first one always the worst? Kind of like how the first word on a blank Word document is always the hardest one to write, and the first trip to the gym is always the hardest one to make, and the first job application is always the hardest one to submit. There's the pressure that this has to represent me totally and completely, that it has to be the best, exacerbated by the doomful (and realistic) sense that there's absolutely no way it will.
So what do I choose to represent me? What kind of first impression do I want to create here?
Maybe I'll choose, in true academic fashion, to jump in with a little shameless self-promotion.
An article I wrote with three of the science teachers with whom I've worked closely was published recently in Science Scope, NSTA's journal for middle school science teachers. They sent me 20 free copies, so I brought one home to show my scientist husband. He read it thoroughly, bless his heart...and he also thoroughly teased me for the funny way I made the figures (photos edited in Microsoft Word...no shame) and and funny language we used (sorry, loves, did you not want me to "go public" with that tidbit??). But then he paused and said, "This makes me realize that good teaching is a lot of work." And, he followed up, the hard work is not just in preparing. You can spend all your time preparing everything perfectly, and then you get to the classroom and--silence. It just totally fails. It takes a lot of work to prepare, yes; but it takes so much more work, in every moment of every day, in every interaction with every student, to make it happen.
In working on my dissertation, I've spent four years watching just how true my husband's observation is. I've documented the work these teachers do during every minute of every class period (and let's not forget all the work they do outside the classroom!). I've seen them listen deeply to each idea that each student brings up. I've watched them shift gears mid-lesson when things aren't going well. I've seen them light up with excitement as students make connections across weeks, even years of instruction. I've seen their students develop sophisticated, complex scientific explanations by doing the difficult task of pulling together several weeks' worth of data, observations, and discussion. And in the midst of all this, I've heard them worry, constantly, that they aren't doing enough; that their student's won't learn enough; that they aren't good enough.
At one point I told someone that one of the big themes I hoped my dissertation would express was that teaching well is constant, difficult work. It's cognitively demanding. It's emotionally draining. It requires flexibility, snap judgements, and intuition. It requires understanding what Joey is saying right here, right now, about how air particles move; recognizing that Kanya said something similar yesterday and asking her to respond to Joey; noting that, although both of them are technically wrong, that there is a seed of something productive that can help them get where you want them to be going; and trusting that someone, eventually, will point out the logical inconsistency that will allow everyone to move forward with the next experiment or the next set of ideas. I want my dissertation to articulate clearly exactly what that hard work looks like, and what it accomplishes for the students who are lucky enough to benefit from it.
And so my husband's comment made me proud that our article, my first first-author (semi-)academic publication, provides that representation of teaching and that representation of me and my work. I think it's a pretty good first impression.