This post on Rate Your Students (where academics go to let off steam) really got me mad this morning, so much so that I sent in one of these responses (Guess. It'll be fun.). Why? Because it is so stinkin' hard to be a young woman teaching a classroom full of frat boys for the first time.
I will never forget my first teaching assignment up north. I was six months out of undergrad, actually younger than a few of my students, and the only woman out of nine TA's for a 300-student course on American military history. One of my students had military experience, another was obsessed with weapons systems (he was a Texan), and as I was not then (nor am I now) in any way qualified to be teaching American military history, I was scared to death. The fact that students know that you're young and inexperienced means that they can find it hard to take you seriously. The only things that saved me that semester were three realizations: 1) that as long as I stayed 10 pages ahead in the reading, I knew more than they did, 2), that they wanted me to give them good grades, and 3) that my supervising professor had my back. If it weren't for her example of excellent teaching, and her commitment to developing us as instructors and scholars by buying us lunch once a week and helping us work through lesson plans, I don't know that I would have figured out how much I love teaching college students.
It's a sad fact that women don't immediately command respect in the classroom, but that's how it is. I've learned a lot since then on how to be professional and make students realize that I mean business without being mean or unapproachable. But, wow, I don't envy Nikki, and I wish her all the best.