Friday, February 05, 2010

A little reality on the rocks, please

One side effect I've noticed from the post-sabbatical reentry into teaching is that, like Don Corleone, I take things personally even if they're just business.

I'm still excited about my courses and the students and still happy that they mostly seem to be engaged with the material. But on days when some of them aren't? When a few busy themselves with their laptops (and one, as I got to see when sitting in the audience during some presentations, got all caught up in Facebook instead of looking at the speaker) or seem disengaged? Outside, I'm the same, except that I exert even more energy. Inside, I'm a wounded tulip: "I put this really interesting text on the syllabus and have all this good stuff for discussion, and you're not interested? What did I do wrong?"

The answer, as my rational self tells me, is maybe nothing. Maybe the text or my presentation is at fault, but then again maybe they have other things going on in their lives. Maybe they didn't read it. Maybe they're sick or tired. Maybe they're just bored and don't feel like being in class.

This isn't the majority. But just as you notice the one bad evaluation in a stack of good ones, the disengaged students draw a disproportionate amount of my time and attention in the class.

So this wounded tulip needs to toughen up inside as well as outside and get back to some kind of equilibrium that doesn't have me obsessing over teaching as I did when I was a TA. I'm not going to follow Don Corleone's methods, but I'm going to have some "it's not personal; it's just business" on the rocks, with a chaser of "forget about it."

(Also, a quiet talk with Facebook Student.)

5 comments:

annieem said...

It's definitely not personal, Undine, but of course I feel your pain. I put hours into prepping a class, and it's natural to take it personally when they'd rather play Farmville than engage. But as a business prof said to me last night during this exact same discussion: I see teaching in terms of a retail model: if they keep coming back for more, than I'm successful.

Yeah, I know, it's a weird analogy, but he's a business prof.

PS: love the Don Corleone reference---but beware using it in a class: so few students have seen the Godfather, alas.

Christopher Vilmar said...

I hear you on this, but have nothing sparkling to add really.

I wish I had annieem's confidence in the retail model. I'm pretty my students keep coming back because of gen ed requirements and my attendance policy.

annieem said...

Chris: I'm not so sure I believe in that retail model either, but it seemed to make the business prof rest easier than I usually do;-)

undine said...

Annieem, I don't think they've seen any of the movies I've seen, or that I've seen theirs, so I pretty much don't make any references like that at all. I'm with Christopher Vilmar on the retail model: I'd love to think it's me, since I know it's not a requirement, but it's probably the non-8 a.m. time slot that is the real attraction.

Ink said...

Teaching is by nature personal, though, if we truly invest in it. So it's just hard sometimes. I wish I could just disconnect in those situations, but it's impossible.

But I feel for you and understand where you're coming from!