Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Resilience, or learning critical distance when teaching

In class the other day, I was teaching some of my favorite stuff--call it dinosaur studies.

I had put extra time and effort into the brief lecture, including the pictures. I had found some video clips of T. Rex that I thought they would like and explained the context.

Some days, you go to teach a class just because it's your job, but on this day, I was pumped and excited.

As I wound up the whole thing and the video clip finished, I asked "Are there any questions?'

What I expected as I stood there:
 What I got:
  • "Are you going to hand back our quizzes now?" 
It totally brought me up short. I was in the moment. They really were not.

Now, they're a nice if quiet group, and I realize that I shouldn't let this get to me. But it did. I was totally deflated even in my other classes and, yes, oddly sad for the rest of the day. I started questioning whether I should even be teaching.

Rationally, this is nuts. Classes come and go, and individual class hours are unpredictable. We've all had spectacular days in the classroom sometimes and so-so days other times and "kill me now" days at least once in our careers.

Rationally, I know that they don't have to like what I like. They have their own interests that I doubtless don't share, and, while I try my level best to choose interesting as well as pedagogically useful materials, that's something you can't always predict.

But irrationally, I wanted them to share a little excitement about dinosaur studies. Irrationally, I felt that I'd taken a risk, like giving them a caprese salad only to have them demand the usual pizza.

And thinking about it now, I realize that we really need both perspectives. Yes, they have their own interests, and rationally that's fine, and I try to work with that as much as I can. But if I stop being excited about what's happening in the classroom and wanting them to love what I love in terms of literature, then what am I even doing?


gwinne said...

Yeah. I'm having a similar experience this semester in which my intro class has more energy and interest than my advanced class (and they should be the self-selecting group!). Hard to bring it some times...

Servetus said...

I feel like we're on a downward slope when it comes to student curiosity about things they're not already interested in. I know there must be some explanation. But I've been feeling it for a while. And as I said to my class with majors this week -- at this stage, I can't provide all the energy in the room. You have to provide some of it. (And honestly the topic is abstruse enough that I don't know why they'd take it if they weren't interested.)

Anonymous said...

'Any questions' keeps them to a question. 'Any comments' might have opened up their options. 'What was new to you' might have kept them on your lecture topic. 'What do you now want to know more about' might be iffy in responses. 'What did you hear today that you might share if asked what you are learning in this class' might also have been a more opening topic...or a downer if they didn't reply at all.
ALL students are focused on grades and requirements and how long the paper has to be and what will be on quiz ... this actually isn't what learning is supposed to be about at this level, but it is a continuation of what they learned to do and consider in high school and before.
You might ask anonymously why are they taking the class? Fits their time schedule? Meets a requirement to graduate? Doesn't require a final project/paper/exam? Is required to get into their graduate program so they can make lots of money? Are they actually interested in the subject... because they may not be when they start the class. Sorry to be debbie-downer here ....
AND, MAYBE they are in class because you have a kickass reputation as a high energy interesting teacher.

undine said...

Gwinne--sometimes it just happens that way! Hope the energy transfers to them.

Servetus--it's funny how that energy transfer happens. And about the subject: sometimes I feel as though not being conversant with comics and superheroes as some of my colleagues are is a failing, since I don't have that as a natural bridge. I try to find common ground, though.

Anonymous--Good tips! I may have even said "what do you think?" at the time. This is an optional class, and all those requirements have been discussed exhaustively (and are in the syllabus), which is why I took the comment as a sign of being checked out for that day. I may have been wrong, though, or oversensitive, because I asked them and they claimed to want more dinosaur studies. I'm doubling down on the hands-on stuff, though, since they do respond well to that.