Saturday, January 17, 2004

Teaching As A Subversive Activity

Besides the obvious ego-serving high of being the one in the room with all the answers, not to mention the chalk and the gradebook and the stage persona to carry it off with aplomb, you know what I like about teaching? Assigning papers. It turns out to be deeply satisfying to create the perfect catalyst for epiphany-laden learning, coming up with just the right essay question, the one which makes the students really struggle to put complex relationship and theories into their own words (and, in doing so, broaden the brain a little). And I've even begun to enjoy reading the work that comes back. It's so fascinating how other people see the world, and moreso to watch them squinting at it.

And squint they do. Despite long hair and a young subject -- you don't find that many close-to-retirement media and pop culture faculty these days -- I have a rep for being one of those esoterically-minded teachers that assigns too much work, lectures too much, makes you work for your B-, and is more interested in what you'll learn from the class than what you learn in the class. Not by accident, either. Heck, it worked for me.

I think it's working for them, too. You can see it in their eyes, in the questions they ask. Some of them have taken to staying after class to tell me their brain hurts, and they're pissed off at themselves for not yet "getting it." Mostly they're really asking for an exchange, for a few minutes of clarification, of focus. I tell them that what they're feeling is academic growing pains, that its a sign that they're doing something very, very right. And it is.

So if students are coming to me eager to get complex ideas right, it also means I'm doing something right. Whether they realize it or not, such questions present as compliments. What else is it but a mark of teaching success when a student wants to wriggle on the hook a little bit more after the bell has rung? When they've seen your fire, and want it for themselves?

You know what I really love about teaching? Making thirst. And helping the thirsty dowse, drill wells, and prepare to drink deeply. Mostly, I love finding the perfect essay question because it can accomplish all that.

Today I collected ten essays, all addressing the ways in which changes in social consciousness become institutional change via analysis of the growing pains of our own institution in the late sixties, as experienced through two alumni speakers who visited the class last week; I still have to grade the abstracts for their class presentations this week, each exploring the sociohistorical significance of a paradigmatic event, text or practice in the same era. Midterm grades are due Wednesday at noon noon noon; I've got a pile of papers to grade, and I'm looking forward to it.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:26 AM |

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