My uncle had one piece of advice for his country relatives when we visited New York City—When you go somewhere and you’re lost, don’t look like you’re lost.
As he stood on the city street in pointing us toward the subway, doubt would flicker across his face. And he’d wonder aloud if he should have taken a day off work to show us around.
But he hadn’t. So while he supervised students in an electronic microscope lab at New York University, we’d bumbled our way through a few of the 80 some museums in the city and explore Central Park, our walk never quite brisk enough and our colorful t-shirts too tawdry in the sea of cosmopolitan black.
But we kept going. And when we missed a subway stop and couldn’t find 5th Avenue and couldn’t remember which way was north, we tried to act confident when we weren’t.
A couple years later, I used my uncle’s advice again. Just before walking into class on my first-ever day of teaching, it hit me—I don’t know how to teach. What if no one listened to me? What if a fight broke out? What if my course requirements were too hard? Too easy? What if I opened my mouth and nothing came out?
I wanted to walk out the school door and go home and wrap up in a quilt. But I had to go in there. Students were waiting.
“Don’t look like you’re lost,” my uncle had said.
So I breathed in deeply. And out. I lifted my chin and squared my shoulders. I picked up my books and cleared my throat. I made my steps brisk and walked through the door.
And I taught my first of thousands of classes.
I’m glad we ventured into New York City, even though we bumbled our way through. And even though I bungled lots of classes, I’m glad I walked into that first class on the first day of my first year of teaching.