This semester is my first time teaching the first semester of organic chemistry lecture at UR. That also means it is my first time teaching at an “introductory” level here. We have a one semester general chemistry course and then the students jump into orgo I/II, so my students have had only one semester of college chemistry (with some starting directly in organic as first years due to AP credit). For the most part, I find them enthusiastic sponges ready to absorb this new chemistry knowledge; there are growing pains as their minds are stretched in different ways and they are challenged to think about organic structure and reactivity. Learning organic chemistry is almost like learning a new language– you have to understand the vocabulary before you can start having conversations. The start of the semester is a LOT of “vocab” (drawing structures, representing molecules, nomenclature, thinking about reactivity, etc.) and we have just recently the real “conversations” (reactions!). However, I find myself struggling with where to draw the line between material they need to know and all the exceptions to those rules! A part of me wants to tell them the whole story, to stretch their brains as far as they can go, to make them really KNOW the material, but another part of me appreciates that when you are first learning something a little white lie or omission of exceptions can make everything clearly. Then when you move on to the next level, you can be challenged in different ways. It is a fine line that we educators have to tread.
This week it was nucleophilicity and solvent effects. It was an awesome application of SN2 reactions to PET imaging of tumors. Did I give them too much information? Did I confuse them? Did I motivate them to be excited about organic chemistry in the application to medicine? Was it completely clear? How will they perform on the exam in two weeks? Was deviating from what the textbook does a good or bad thing?
I guess I’ll see two weeks from tomorrow. Teaching a class for the first time is exciting and terrifying, but it is one of the reasons why I love this job. It keeps me on my toes and my life would never be described as dull.