Thursday, June 5, 2008

On Teaching, Learning, and the Spaces in Between

I have school-related updates galore! As I'm writing this, I'm feeling sort of guilty because I need to be doing research, but whatever. Things need to be said, dammit! And because I am so long-winded, this is going to be one hell of a long entry.

For starters, I want to talk about my teaching day a week ago. Holy crap, I can't believe it's already been a week. Anyway, the big day began with my waking up at 4:30. Yes, 4:30. I wasn't nervous or anxious about the day ahead; I just had to pee. But once I was up, I couldn't fall asleep again. So I started the day on about four hours of sleep.

I went to work and stayed until 2:00. I was pretty useless for most of the day due to nervous energy and fatigue. I felt very prepared and centered. That's because I had an epiphany the day before about my anxiety. I realized all of a sudden that what was making me so anxious about teaching was the very real possibility of silence.

(Let's talk about silence, briefly. Ours is not a culture that appreciates silence, and we certainly don't know what to do with it - hence our tendency towards chit chat. Silence in the classroom is equally nerve-racking, especially after someone poses a question to the class and no one responds.)

I decided that I was not going to give into the anxiety and worry of dealing with silence. In fact, I decided that I would embrace the silence and take it as a sign that I should either reframe my questions or comments or just give the students more time to think and respond. Once I had this plan in mind, I immediately relaxed. I was shocked to realize that I was ready.

Once I got on campus, I did a crapload of running around, trying to get things with my thesis proposal tied up before the English department office closed for the day. I met with my second reader, tried to meet with my first reader but had to wait for about 30 minutes, got everything signed, got my letter of approval from my first reader, ran to the library to make copies, ran around the library getting cash so that I could buy a copy card so that I could make copies, ran back to my building, made six different packets of info for each grad committee member, ran upstairs to drop off said packets, bought a bag of Doritos, and then went to class to begin teaching.

Being as I had just turned in my thesis proposal (the product of two years of thinking), I was elated. I channelled that energy into class, and it worked - and I got tons of positive energy back from the students. We started class by workshopping the poetry of three different students. Before I knew it, we had blown effortlessly through all three poems and were ready to move on to the discussion of their final assignment and the reading I'd assigned. Again, we just sailed through the discussion of the assignment and the reading. And believe it or not, it was fun. I couldn't believe it. My professor had told me that I would have so much fun, but I didn't believe her. But she was right on the money. It was a blast.

The best thing? The exchange of ideas. Oh, this is what I love about college classes: that we all bring something different to the table and that it's all valuable. And the next best thing? Seeing in some students' eyes that I had reached them. Little ol' me! I made a difference - maybe not a huge one, but a difference nonetheless. It was thrilling. I almost wanted to cry. I have never felt that kind of wonderfully positive power.

I thought the day couldn't get any more amazing. And then I went to a reading hosted by our campus literary journal. I sat and listened to some amazing work by local authors, and all of it was so touching and funny and poignant and sad. During the reading I surveyed the room and experienced the distinct feeling that I was exactly where I should be, in the midst of all these beautiful words and this supportive community. Everything made sense.

That night, I couldn't sleep because I was that excited. And ever since then, I've been considering the unthinkable: me, a teacher. Yes, it could happen. But before then, there might be me, the MFA student. Yes, that could happen as well. It's all up in the air right now, and it's all really new, so I'm not sure what I'll decide on. But I will say this: it feels damn good to have options. And it is the most wonderful feeling to have achieved something that I didn't think I could do. I have felt a grander sense of purpose for the last week because of this experience.

But right now I remain in the trenches. My fairy tales professor vetoed my second idea for my research paper as well, so I sat down with her and figured out a workable topic. The bad news? I have to resubmit another abstract and annotated bibliography by tomorrow, and I haven't started either. Am I worried? Nope, because I know it'll get done. Am I irritated? Hell yes, but I will jump through these stupid hoops in order to keep my GPA up.

Today was the last day of my internship. Well, sort of. It was the last day of class, but I still have work to do. I'll be helping the professor review all of the students' process scrapbooks, and I still have to write a paper based on my internship experience. This internship has been a hell of a lot of work, but it has been so rewarding. The students in the class are nothing short of incredible. I can't believe how talented, smart, and insightful they are. They taught me so much, and I am so grateful to have had this experience. And I have gotten strangely attached to them. I am sad to see this class end, for real.

But I am happy to announce that my smart husband passed his comps and will be graduating this month with his Master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. Congratulations, behbehs! I am so very proud of you.

And if that wasn't enough news, tomorrow the graduate committee is meeting and will decide the fate of my thesis proposal. I really want it to pass so that I can get to work on the thesis over the summer. But even if it doesn't, I'll still be working on the thesis. Let's just say that I really want it to pass because I'll be slightly humiliated if it doesn't. Okay, really humiliated. So keep your fingers crossed for me. I think I'll find out the outcome in about a week.

Whew, that was a lot. Thanks for hanging in there. I'm glad I got that out; now I'm off to do tons of research.


A Walk In My Shoes said...

If you become a teacher, I will take your class.
Fingers crossed for tomorrow, but you don't need it, I bet it will turn out better than great (is that even possible?)

dapotato said...

fingers crossed! this is very encouraging to hear, as i'll soon be entering the academic world again.

Crazy Daisy said...

Fingers and toes crossed!

Congrats on teaching. I love teaching and doing workshops! The creative energy is amazing!

Your husband is a rehab counselor!? VERY COOL! My MS program had collge/school/rehab counselors together for some of the coursework! I actual thought about doing the rehab track!

Best wishes!

tootie said...

Hooray! Sounds like everything is going well. Congrats on the awesome teaching experience, and congrats to your hubby, too, for passing his exam!!

ssinca said...

congrats on the teaching, congrats to roy, fingers crossed for your thesis!

amber said...

congratulations on a great teaching session! i can only imagine how excited you must feel right now. :D

Amy said...

Good luck on your thesis! I'm glad you had such a good time teaching. You're right about dealing with the silence. That's one of the toughest things to overcome. You feel awkward and like you should be saying something. But once you get used to them they are very effective at getting students to stop and think. Or in my case, at least trying to get them to think. :)

Brenda said...

You would make an awesome teacher :D Congrats to Roy for his hard work! I had no idea he was working toward his masters in rehab counseling...that is the coolest shit ever! Options are always a very good thing. Best of luck I'll cross my fingers and toes too...that should add to the buttloads of luck you have with you already (but we all know you don't need luck). ;)

Discombobulated said...

I am so glad you had a positive teaching experience! I knew you would love it.
It is true, the energy you get from the students is amazing, and there is no greater than for me, than facilitating learning.

Holla for Roy!

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your teaching! It would help if you knew more how students think. See the new book on "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better".