By Kristen Entwistle
Thirteen weeks ago I taught my first college class. “Dr. E” they called me – a name I grew up hearing, but it didn’t refer to me. It was my dad.
Thirteen weeks ago I stood in front of 31 students and told them that we were going to make it through this semester of organic chemistry together. “Yeah, right,” they told me. “We’ll never get this. It’s too hard.”
Thirteen weeks ago, I stood in front of 15 other students and told them that we were going to cover all of biochemistry in one semester, because that’s what the course catalog said. “You’re kidding,” they said to me. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
As I look out now over my class, I can see how far they’ve come. How much more they know now than they did before. How proud I am of them. How grateful I am that they were my first.
My first classes, my first students. The first ones to laugh at me and with me, the first ones to point out the carbon I was missing on the board, or that I had assigned the wrong chapter’s homework. The first ones to cut their finger in the lab and have to go to the ER. The first ones to break glassware and try to pick it up with their bare hands. The first ones to tell me that the instrument is broken or that something I said I put on the course website wasn’t there. The first ones to roll their eyes at me when I told a bad joke, the first ones to ask for points back on tests and quizzes and papers, the first ones to cry in my office, the first ones to smile when they got something right.
I will always remember these students, the ones who taught me more about myself than I think I taught them. I may forget their names, and definitely their grades. But I will never forget them, because they were my first.
These students have taught me how to laugh at my own mistakes, and to move on with grace, humility and laughter. They have taught me how to be a better teacher, a better mentor, a better friend. They have taught me what it means to be vulnerable and honest, even when it seems impossible and impractical. They have encouraged me and challenged me every day – and they’ve likely given me a few gray hairs, too.
There will be other classes, more students. But there will never be another first. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.