I know I’m spoiled by the California weather and all, but it being January, it would be nice if the dept. could shut off the air conditioning in our part of the building.
I’m liking teaching, as usual (though not the impending grading). I’ve hit a new level of … comfort … with my classes. It may seem odd that I’ve taken 10 years in the classroom to get comfortable enough to banter and make pre-class small talk with my students, but that’s always been the hardest, most awkward thing for me to do. For some reason, this quarter I’ve just felt so much more at ease, able to tease my students a bit (like the one I saw today playing solitaire while I was handing out stuff for the prof in lecture) and also able to call on them --- and harass them when they can’t answer --- in a way that comes off as pleasant and non-intrusive and funny. In the past, I’ve been so unsettled and freaked out about singling out students for tasks by name (Stu 1, why don’t you read this paragraph here? Stu 2, can you tell us about ____ in that paragraph?) that I may do it once and then it feels weird and I shy away from it the rest of the class. I gotta admit, doing a rather cruel icebreaker that put students on the spot seemed to somehow set the tone of the course for me. Maybe them too. It helps that this course is in no way related to my interests or research. It also helps that I like studying everything and love to learn new things, so that I’m still interested and energetic regardless of what I’m teaching.
One thing I still need to work on though is shutting up in class. This has always been my Achilles heel --- I took these huge anonymous gen ed lectures as an undergrad and loved watching some charismatic lecturer showboat his (no --- well, yeah, mostly his) way through a course in some highly entertaining and exuberant performance. I loved that. I wanted that. Coming from a girl who did drama in high school and always longed for but was never quite brave enough to venture stand up comedy, it’s not surprising that I wanted the chance to be outrageous and captivating and educational on some stage somewhere and become a professor myself. That quality of large public performance being primarily associated with professordom in my mind. Upper-division classes, those smaller venues, were alright but since they often became a struggle over who would control the floor, myself or the professor, they didn’t quite draw me the way the Big Survey did --- or heck, even my intro bio and astronomy classes, which I remember as quite entertaining and funny. Those lecturers (and yeah, these were not the tt profs giving the 500-person lectures at my undergrad) were very aware of their audience and its level of attention, and were not only willing to push the entertainment factor to keep students awake but clearly took great pleasure in pushing at students who were not paying attention or being respectful --- poking at them in ways that were funny, not mean.
I suppose that by invoking the idea of entertainment that many times I’ve shocked and alienated a lot of people who claim on their blogs to really dislike that passive, consumerist, tv-style model of education. And I’m sure that all the people who have done or read education research that underscores just how horrible the large lecture format is in terms of actual education quality are shaking their heads at me right now. I dunno. I really liked it. But then I love learning things, so I’m sure I’m a bad example of what people get out of the large lecture courses.
As I was saying ---- I love the performance side of teaching; I love the lecturing and telling stories and talking, just trying to get a reaction out of the students. I’m not good at relinquishing control (and I’m very good at remembering and talking about stuff off the top of my head), so I have trouble shutting up and handing over the reins to the class. TAing is, of course, complicated by the fact that I have no control over the reading schedule or how the assignments are set up, so whatever I do want to do in section has to mesh with someone else’s vision of the class. And often, I’m taking notes in lecture with another notebook open on the other knee, trying to figure out how to triage the material for discussion, particularly when the prof is either a) cramming in way too much information, b) assuming the students have background that I don’t think they actually do, or c) throwing massive amounts of complex theory at them without really explaining it. Sometimes I have to navigate all three. So really, often section is all about figuring out what the prof said in lecture and why it is important and what that has to do with the other stuff we read two weeks ago. In those cases I run class like a bunch of rapid-fire questions, interspersed with my explanations, or, when I have time and energy, I work up group projects and parcel out the various confusing bits of lecture. When I have a tight agenda, and when I need to make sure they actually understood what, say, the carnivalesque is, I can’t really let the students dictate where the discussion goes. And secretly, I’m quite all right with that.
I’d make a new year’s resolution to work on fostering discussion rather than being the center of attention in this course, but the prof’s pacing and the topic of the course are working against me. Plus, it takes more time for me to prep group work or actually write out discussion questions or plan an activity, and I have already vowed to not spend any more time on this class than I absolutely have to — I have my diss to finish, and besides, they’re not paying me enough for me to be a wonderful amazing life-changing teacher, just an adequate one.
Ok, don’t want to end on quite that negative of a note, so here are some cat pictures, and I will close with the profound, informative, and exuberant statement: my cats are cute!
(You little putz --- that was my water you just washed in!)