Friday, March 11, 2011
So.. I cut short my note yesterday about butterflies and teaching because I had to go teach.
In fact, I spent the whole day in one-on-one conferences with students about their essays. That kind of interaction is one of the most meaningful kinds of teaching (I believe), but it also takes the most out of a body. I was exhausted by the end of the day.
It was a happy, satisfied kind of exhaustion for the most part however. In such conferences you can see that most students are trying pretty hard to meet the instructor halfway and make the work count for something.
Very, very few students are in English 102 because they love writing or because they want to be there, so their good humor and good efforts mean more, I think. For most students, that class is a hoop, a gate, a game-- instituted by the college--that they must play if they want access to the other parts of the college experience (and the grades, jobs, and money that are assumed to come with those things).
So when students play the game well--as if it really matters (and of course I believe that it does), I commend them for it. Yesterdays conferences seemed to go in that direction anyway. Most of the students were serious and concerned about what the rubric says, how the reviewers evaluated their papers, and what to do next.
All in all, it was a pretty satisfying day.
I still wonder, though, about this change I feel in myself about the whole teaching endeavor. I'm really not trying to talk myself out of my job or anything here. Don't misunderstand. In fact, I want to do my job better. I want to either recapture the fire in the belly that I've felt for teaching for more than 10 years now, OR I want to understand what other kinds of passion will substitute for that fire.
It might be the case, for example, that fire in the belly (whatever that means) isn't the mode that's "right" for me or for my teaching right now. I'm okay with that. I'm fine with the idea that it's time to reconceive the way I look at and carry out this grand experiment called pedagogy. In fact, I welcome the chance to see the whole endeavor with fresh eyes and fresh motivation.
I'm reading Malcolm Gladwells What the Dog Saw. The title essay of that collection is about Cesar Millan, a "dog whisperer." Part of Gladwell's claim about Millan is that he has "presence" that commands the attention and respect of the canine troublemakers that he specializes in helping. The way he stands, the way he moves, the way he uses his eyes, his hands, his head, all make a difference in how the dogs respect and attend to him.
This semester I've noticed that some students don't seem to have much compunction about talking over me and blathering on about whatever even while I'm trying to get class started and "tell them what's on the quiz." Part of that attitude might be a consequence of "their generation" (a post for another day (and an attitude that I try not to adopt, btw)), but I was thinking about whether or not my current lack of "butterflies" or "fire in the belly" contributes to a lack of "presence" in the classroom. Can they tell that I'm less "there" than normal and do they therefore take advantage of me in subtle, unconscious, unintentional ways? I wonder.
In any case, my attention is so very, very divided these days that I'm not sure where to start in reassessing or reconfirming what it is I believe about teaching writing and literature. I'm glad to say, however, that even that prospect-- of working out who and what I am as a teacher and scholar-- is part of the delight of the job I have.
I hardly dare tempt fate (and I may soon regret saying so)-- but I say "Bring it on."