Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nekkid, No. Utterly Confused and Unprepared, Yes.

Smart readers -- and anyone who lingers here is smart ex officio -- have already figured out that my "gauche" posts about how teachers get fired and what for reflect something going on way down below the ocean of my subconscious.

As Shakespeare would have written, "Methinks, duh! Lay on, McFreud, and damned be he who first says, 'I think your 50 minutes are up.' "

But my anxiety is general, not specific to the possibility I'm about to go all sexist about my students in class, in blog, in the halls or on the green playing fields of USF. It's a lot simpler and a lot less interesting. Next month on or about the 21st, I will return to teaching as my lovely sabbatical comes to an end. That is to say, I haven't uttered a word of vertical wisdom -- I lurk behind the lectern and, suddenly, I stride about -- in 14 months.

Maybe I've forgot how?

Many things comprise the teacher's art, including careful preparation, Maoist self-criticism, long hours reading some very dreary student prose (and some very dreary expert prose, too) and long moments of carefully considering how one modulates criticism so that it fits the kid and her/his particular set of skill, idealism, resentment and inertia. But somewhere at the heart of the game is a taste for and an enthusiasm for performance.

Teaching is a one-man show. That's what I think. The pyrotechnics may reside in the provocative argument, the sly joke, the bow tie artfully askew. Everybody's got a trick or two the point of which is surprising the classroom and throwing it off balance. I'm not saying every teacher in every classroom has to throw open the window and shout, "Help! Help! I'm surrounded by idiots!" when your students slip a little too deep into that Soviet state of mind best summed up by, "We pretend to learn while they pretend to teach."

But teachers




And college teachers IMHO (In My Haughty Opinion) have a special responsibility because, dammit, our students are so tame, lovely and quiet that you simply don't have to work that hard to survive. Discipline is not a problem. Disruptive kids are not a problem. Filthy in the classroom and gunfire in the halls aren't a problem.

You need to shake your little wisdom-maker for the boys and girls. That's what I'm saying. Wondering if I'm still crazy (enough) after all these years still worries me, particularly after all these years.

This is the time of year I have nightmares about teaching. Simple stuff but terrifying. In my dreams, I realize I'm late for class and can't find the classroom; I know what I'm suppose to be teaching but I can't find my notes and my mind goes blank. There's a lot of self-regard in such self-laceration, of course of course. Oh pity the drama king. If the classroom is a battlefield, at USF it's Grenada. I bow before those teachers for whom every day is a Normandy landing. I remember when my wife was teaching junior high school and I was in graduate school. The night before her first day of school she could never sleep. We would take long after-midnight walks as she gathered her courage. My dear brave girl. I rant about teaching as entertainment. In her school the hallways were the running of the bulls in Pamplona and the classroom was Siegfried and Roy on one of those nights the audience was wearing meat cologne.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I understand your angst. I have back to school teaching nightmares--and I'm not even going back. The difficulty of combining showmanship with knowledge is overlooked. You've got to make the "knowledge" grab them without letting them see the showmanship. A fine art. And you shall be hot.