Prof. de Breeze recently had a post about making a Pedagogical Hail Mary Pass: seeing that the instructional ship is listing like an iceberg-impaled Titanic, yet nonetheless rescuing the classroom from its looming demise (often through this thing called "innovation"). But what about those days when, despite your best intentions, the ship sinks to its chilly grave all the same? What if you are the iceberg?
Early in my teaching career at GW, I was assigned to teach "Survey of British Literature I" at an ungodly hour, so early I could only imagine that my students would be going to bed after the class. At the time the university required all students to take a literature course before they graduated, so many of those spending 75 minutes twice a week in my classroom had no particular interest in being seated there. I knew that, so I decided to be creative: they would be mine! They would all become English majors! I dreamed up all kinds of song and dance routines to engage my captive audience. Because this story unfolds in the days before multimedia classrooms -- I'm not even sure the internet had been invented, and I'm fairly certain I was riding an elderly donkey to class each morning -- I did not have the option of DVDs and PowerPoint and YouTube.
Inventive Me came up with a GREAT idea for teaching Beowulf. I began the class by turning off the lights and inviting the students to gather at the front of the room. I lit a tall red candle, and we formed a circle around the dancing flame. I then opened my Klaeber and read in Old English the incursion of Grendel into Heorot -- those amazing lines in which the god-cursed demon stalks with the rising mist from the moors, not knowing that Beowulf awaits within the gleaming hall. I somehow thought that all of us, huddled around the fire in the dark and listening to a narrative that implants itself as much in your body as it does your soul, would be transported back in time to a dangerous and small world, to a circle of light bounded by fears of death and engulfment.
As it turns out, my dramatic reading was interrupted every thirty seconds or so by students arriving late. As each new opening of the door and bewildered look on a young face broke what little mood I had established -- as each visage registered What the hell is going on here? Why is the room so dark? Who is that crazy professor with the anemic candle, and why is he chanting gibberish? -- well, as each intrusion ensured that no time travel would in fact take place, I realized that I was the perpetrator of pedagogy gone wrong.
My class never recovered from the day of the candle. Oh, don't get me wrong: according to my evaluations my students liked me and the class well enough. But they would never really talk to me from that day onwards, and always sat as far back in the classroom as possible.
What about you? Have you ever tried something innovative in the classroom, only to find that your pedagogy had gone horribly wrong?