I began my college career as a computer science major. What I had envisioned (initially at least) was that I would learn how to code and develop programs for some software company anywhere. I probably got the idea from years of reading gaming magazines and thinking, “hey, these people that made Metal Gear Solid were programmers. I could learn to do that.” When I was a little boy, I once took apart my family’s apple computer and put it back together–I’d later try it with an Apple IIe and get into a LOT of trouble for being unsuccessful at the latter part. I had a portable 8-inch television that my grandmother gave me that I would disassemble on a semi-regular basis, staring at the CRT and wires, enthralled at all of the connections and plastic and metal. I think a lot of this got me to that point.
But a series of mishaps, fumbles, transfers and changes in later years resulted in me becoming an English major. When I transferred to the University of North Texas, I thought I wanted to be a music major (side note: I was on a music scholarship my freshman year in college. I was a CS major who auditioned and got a music scholarship due to years of classically trained singing). But I knew UNT had a very rigorous jazz program so I thought to myself, “I’ll apply as an English major cause I know I can bullshit my way through an essay, get in, brush up on my sight reading, then audition so I can change majors.”
That didn’t happen. I took one HUGE English lit class where I was one of at least 100 students (it was where I first learned what a Teaching Assistant was) and was weirded out by it…BUT I also was in another lit course that was much smaller. The professor was a really nice dude by the name of Robert Upchurch, and I just enjoyed being in his class. He was a delightful man who would talk about books in between stories about his family and I just thought, “this dude is alright”.
Cut to a year later, I’m back in the valley living with my mom and sister and transferring back to Panam. I had failed out of UNT and felt like I had wasted all of that academic potential everyone in my family had talked about. I was demoralized. I was 5 years into a 4 year degree, in debt, and felt subhuman. But then I ended up taking a senior level class with a new faculty member by the name of Colin Charlton, a dude who would radically change the trajectory of my life. At that time I was a heavy smoker (both in weight and packs-a-day) and it was one of those long evening courses. I believe it was his first semester teaching there and after a couple days of class, we had a smoke break (he smoked at the time too). I remember talking to him about how fascinated I was about how he was structuring the class, asking him about his pedagogical style. He paused, looked around, and said, “honestly dude, I have no idea what I’m fucking doing right now.” I was instantaneously loyal to him. I’d never had a teacher admit that they were winging it before. That same semester in a “Rhetoric of Power” course, my professor, Danika Brown, suggested I look into the idea of graduate school. Those two people placed that idea in my head that I could actually do that thing after graduating.
I never saw UTPA (or UTRGV as it’s now known) as “well known” outside of the valley. Growing up there, it was the university you knew and, most of the time, went to after high school. I never fathomed that it could be a stepping stone to a larger world–one that would send me clear across the country and into a field where, after 7 years of graduate school, I’m that teacher now.
I also never thought of myself as a good teacher. I have ideas about stuff, but I always felt like my other colleagues had more of their crap together than I did. But now I’m in my second year as a faculty member. Most of my students are working class, many from farming communities, who work multiple jobs while juggling school and their personal lives. Exactly like I was. A student came up to me not too long ago after a campus event and said, “Ricky I’m sorry I was such a terrible student in your class,” to which I responded, “you can’t possibly be worse than I was as an undergrad.”
I got home pretty late tonight. My Tuesdays tend to be like that, since I’m the faculty advisor to the student newspaper, and it can be time consuming. But then I get to sit in as these students talk about their lives, their future plans, arguments over which member of One Direction is best (so far it seems the consensus is “Liam”, but that changes with their mood). Most of all, they really want the paper to survive. They take pride in it. So, yeah, I’ll give up my Monday and Tuesday afternoons (and sometimes Fridays) to look over stuff with them. I’ve got colleagues here who value my opinion and trust my input when we talk about new courses and the future development of our program. And for some unknown reason, they seem to think I know what I’m doing.
This isn’t an invitation for people to say, ” no you’re a great teacher, Ricky”. That’s not the point of this post: I’m mostly thinking aloud about what it is I do and how I do it. Like my desk it’s messy, disorganized, with some cool stuff interspersed in all of the messy texts and printouts. I hope to figure out a better system someday. At least to pay homage to those people like Professors Upchurch, Brown and Charlton who were the first who gave me permission to fail upwards. Lord knows the world has been paying for it ever since.