Ready! Set! Go!… My Rookie Season

Welcome readers! I hope you like the post that you are about to read. But most importantly, I hope you give me as much feedback as you want. If perhaps you don’t want to make public comments, you are always welcome to e-mail me directly at cfmp01@vt.edu

This story is about a young man, who is getting ready to be an instructor of record for the first time (i.e. he will be in the driver’s seat, and not the co-pilot). Like other rookies, he used to believe that he was ready for the first professional race, and that his previous experiences as a semi-pro driver had been enough to prepare him. But, as in the case of many rookies, he was wrong. He would have probably gone out of the road pretty soon, if not for the mandatory driving certificate that the team leader wanted him to take. As a requisite to be certified, the young driver had to enroll in three preparatory courses. One, in particular, changed his mindset from the very beginning. He realized that although the semi-pro experience had been definitely helpful, getting in the seat of a Formula-1 car, a NASCAR vehicle, a Superbike, or in plain words: being in control of his own class, with all the details of it, was going to be a different story.

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Did you like the analogy between being a driver and a teacher?

A driver has to be aware of his surroundings, as well as the condition of his car. That is how I see a teacher, someone who needs to be confident in front of the class, with the 5+ senses wide open, analyzing the environment, and be ready to adapt for the multiple unexpected situations that could occur. Even if the class content has been well prepared in advanced. I plan to find a strong team of collaborators and trust them, just as professional drivers trust their team. I don’t see my teaching as a one-man journey, although I will certainly have my own teaching voice. I plan to rely in both, “experienced” professors (team leaders) and my students (mechanics and apprentice drivers) to set up a well lubricated learning environment (the car). I am planning to be a risky driver when appropriate (i.e. try not-usual engineering teaching strategies), but also a defensive driver, observing the student’s engagement, progress and evaluating if the objectives are being met. I am aware that incorporating too many changes in the first race, could end in a disaster, reason for which I plan to discuss strategies with the team leaders (glad to have at least two mentors on board).

An important sentence was hanging in the middle of the previous paragraph: “have my own teaching voice”. I enjoyed reading Sarah E. Deel’s journey on this topic. I have gone through several of the questions she makes, and agree with several of her statements. I will admit that currently I already have a teaching style that I want to portray, the Socratic Method. It worked during the laboratory sessions I taught. I like to encourage people to find the answers by themselves, rather than me providing the answers. I like to answer with more questions when possible. I know I will have to be careful and don’t exaggerate, and thanks to Sarah’s article, I will make sure to explain to a certain degree the purpose of my teaching approach. If it ends up not working, then, with the help of the class, I hope to make the necessary twists to reach a beneficial environment.

Readers, here I do need your help, especially if you have taught before. I definitely want to connect with the students, and let them know that I care about their progress in the class. Some sort of boundaries will be definitely there, and I haven’t had a problem keeping those in the past. But besides all the questions about teaching strategies, being super serious or a comedian, the question that is puzzling me a little is: How should students address to me? Mr. Mantilla? Professor (even if I don’t have the official title)? How about Carlos? Other?

My current thought is Carlos, and let me share with you some reasons for it. First because they would probably mispronounce my last name, which actually is Mantilla Peña. Jokes aside (maybe not so much), I don’t feel like Mr. Mantilla, it just sounds too serious to me. If you know me, you might think that it could actually fit my personality, since I appear to be serious all the time, and although that might be true (apparently), I just don’t like Mr. Mantilla, not yet anyways. The second alternative: Professor. Not that I really care to be honest, but not sure if faculty members would dislike the idea of students calling me professor. And Carlos, it just fits me, that is how I have been always called (except family and friends nicknames of course). And I don’t see a reason why it will be a problem, although some have suggested that it might lead to boundaries not being clear.

So I spend two paragraphs in a question that might sound silly, but perhaps it could be the difference between a left foot semester (not so good) and a right foot one (great). Besides that, as I tried to share before. I want to be “fair”, “approachable”, “respected” and a good driver during my rookie season. I want my team of mechanics and apprentice drivers to succeed, to reach the objectives set for the course and to collaborate between them, I want a team victory.

Let’s keep learning. Let’s keep educating. Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s keep asking WHY. Let’s continue to be more mindful. Let’s forget about A, B, C, D, E and F (the grades, not the letters). Let’s focus on making sure to help each other out, create a good pipeline for students to be successful, a well lubricated learning environment. Let’s be great drivers and go for a team victory.

Carlos F. Mantilla P.

13 Comments

Filed under GEDI F17

13 Responses to Ready! Set! Go!… My Rookie Season

  1. Zhanyu (Grace)

    I’m catching on, Carlos. That last paragraph keeps expanding every week! I think you asked a good question. I usually introduce myself by my first name, the easily pronounceable one. It’s to try to close the gap, to ease communication, similar to what you said. Also, at this stage in my career, that’s what I’m most comfortable with. None of that “professor,” “teacher,” “Ms.”… makes me feel old! Completely shallow reasoning, I know. But once the transition is made to actual professorship, I think my preferred title will change, for the (unfortunate) reason that extra care may be needed to establish myself, a female, in a leadership position. Could be my insecurities speaking. Thoughts?

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Grace, thanks for your comments… and I don’t think it is a shallow reasoning, after all we have to be comfortable in the class… In respect to your question, I think time will tell…but I also think that how you are called should not affect your leadership position, your actions will take care of that… and if people want to address you as “Dr..”, “Professor”, etc then it will be as a result of that, and not just because …

  2. abramds

    Carlos, this was a great post and I did like your analogy. I agree with Zhanyu about using a first name to close the gap between teachers and students. I also think that authenticity really matters. However you decide to have the students address you, it should be something that you feel comfortable with (i.e. maybe not Mr. Mantilla*). I also think that there are other ways to maintain a clear boundary with students. It seems to me that you have done a good job of preparing and have a good team for support.

    *I do think it would be kind of awesome to have them use your entire last name and teach them how to pronounce it correctly

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Abram, thanks for you last comment*, I will think about how to do that, it will definitely be a good excercise, and also open to diversity and knowledge of other cultures… thanks

  3. Amy Hermundstad

    I always enjoy reading your posts, Carlos! I enjoyed your analogy and I really appreciate how you are thinking about so many of the different parts that go into teaching and the different people who are involved and can be involved.

    Your question is really interesting. When I taught, I went by Amy (my last name is long and difficult to pronounce as well). But I think my answer to your question may depend on the context. I can definitely relate to Grace’s comment, but I also am not a very formal person. So I will give a firm ‘it depends’ answer. When I taught, I wanted students to realize that their professors were people too. Early on in the class, I discussed what I like to do and what I am interested in. I told them about the Rocky Mountain Showdown because, as a CSU Ram fan, I felt like they all should know when CSU played CU in football. I talked with students before and after class. I held office hours in a coffee shop on campus sometimes. I invited students to talk to me about what they are wanting to do. With all of these small things, I tried to make myself approachable while still being respected. So I think that questions such as how students address you in class are important, and you got me thinking about several other aspects of a classroom environment that can help facilitate that team atmosphere that you want for your classroom. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts! And I will try to remember to check back here or feel free to email 🙂

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Amy, thanks for your comments and sharing your experience. You telling the students about CSU reminded me of a professor back in Colombia that did the same, and in fact he said something like: you should start cheering for my team, because if my team wins I will be happy, I will come in a better mood to class and you will get better grades in your assignments…. all joking, he was a hard grader no matter how his team was doing.

      I have been thinking in the idea of meeting with students individually as well, probably a mandatory meeting but no credit involve. I think I will have around 40 students, if you have suggestions to manage how to set the appointments please let me know, I have thought about telling them to email me, asking for their available times, etc etc and haven’t really found a good way to organize it.

      I am also thinking in encourage group office hours instead of individual office hours, to be clear, would like students to creat study teams and come to talk with me in a team if they have class questions, rather than each of them separately.

      will definitely email you

    • I’m so impressed that you had the undergrads call you Amy! I have such complicated feelings about this one…..(teaser for class).

  4. Yang Liu

    I like the example that compares the driver with the teacher. In my opinion, both teacher and drivers are sensitive to the surroundings and react immediately. But the driver would easy to control the vehicle. The teacher will face several unexpected situations.It is the challenge for the educator.

    • Carlos F Mantilla P

      Hi Yang Liu, yes… actually the driver would sometimes benefit from the technology in the car, if he knows it… so that is the challenge that you mention, the teacher really needs to know his/her environment to have a better chance of properly reacting, if needed.

  5. Joyce Griffin

    Hey, Handsome,
    Very interesting post. Your analogy between the driver and teacher was excellent. I vote for your students calling you Mr. Mantilla Pena. They are university students who should be able to learn to pronounce their teacher’s name correctly.

  6. MiguelAndres

    Thanks for sharing this Carlos. I agree with you, someone’s name is very important. Dale Carnegie said: “the most beautiful sound for a person is the sound of their own name”. I am saying this because I feel someone’s name is part of someone’s identity. For me, it is always a struggle to get called “Miguel” rather to MiguelAndres, which is the name that I go by! Good luck with your class, I think you will be a great instructor!

    • Thanks man, I am wondering though, why together? I mean why not simply Miguel Andres? I guess to completely remove the possibility of someone calling you just Miguel or just Andres?… there could be a setback and people think that is altogether… Does anyone call you Andres?

      • maguerra

        Some people call me Andres. But I have tried multiple ways, and this one is working out well! haha Now, for the papers I am thinking how to do it, Guerra, MA!

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