Wednesday, September 23, 2009
It recently occurred to me that this month, I'm marking 20 years of college-level teaching, if you start counting in fall 1989, when I began work on my M.A. at Ohio State and teaching freshman comp. And I've been in a tenure-track or tenured job for a decade this fall.
I can't even begin to tell you how freaky I find all of that, since much of the time I still feel like I don't have a clue what I'm doing, and wonder when someone is going to call me out on it.
That feeling isn't helped this semester by having a class that's That Class. Those of you who teach know the kind I mean: the soul-sucking, lethargic, amoeba-like organism that starts as a gelatinous mass and gradually calcifies until it is utterly impenetrable. At first, I thought they were just quiet. Confused, maybe. In need of some more examples. But no: none of those things seem to be the problem.
It makes for a long 75 minutes, especially in a class (introduction to folklore) where I rely heavily on them contributing personal experiences and examples to illustrate some of the more abstract concepts and to help them begin coming up with topics for their fieldwork projects.
In those moments, 20 years of experience doesn't do me the slightest bit of good; I still feel like a panicky grad student who's run out of material halfway through class.
I suppose, though, that the benefit of experience is that I know (but have a hard time believing) that to a large degree, it's not about me. It's about a combination of bad place (room with chairs bolted to the floor), bad time (mid-afternoon), and bad karma. I taught the same course last semester, using the same texts, and the students had lots to say, asked lots of great questions, and generated that amazing kind of reciprocal energy exchange that makes a class work.
Still, it's discouraging. I ran into a colleague at the rec center this morning who's in a similar predicament with one of his classes. We agreed that just one section of That Class has the potential to unmoor you.
I read this recent editorial by Maureen Dowd with interest, since That Class has been getting me so down. The problem, as Dowd sees it? That women "tend to attach to other people more strongly, beat themselves up more when they lose attachments, take things more personally at work."
Well, yeah. I've been working on those issues for years. Longer than I've been teaching probably.
Easier said than done, especially when you feel like you've humiliated yourself in front of a class, doing just about everything but swinging from a trapeze to get some kind of response. And believe me, I haven't ruled that option out.
In case you missed the story about the zombie-alert sign earlier this year, above, click here.