Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Back to School

by J J Cohen

Summer? A distant memory. Both my kids went back to school last week: Katherine to the "Big Kid School" (really, a wooden shack where they store the pre-K children). Alex started middle school, a movement from a tiny public school to a vast one. Both were a little frightened of their transitions: Katherine cried and told us she was scared to go to the new building. Alex had a recurring nightmare that the world had been taken over by hungry zombies and that he was the only person left alive. He took to sleeping with the covers over his head so that he wouldn't see the undead cannibals when they arrived to ingest him.

I'm sitting in my office prepping for a Chaucer class, wondering why I still get butterflies after teaching the course at GW in some permutation or another since 1994. My son could scarcely believe me when I confided my anxiousness as he brushed his teeth this morning. "Teachers get nervous?" he asked incredulously. "But they are the ones in power!"

Sort of. But a good class -- a class worth teaching -- has to be a communal event, one where the students have something at stake and care about what unfolds in the room. That takes work. And rigor. And cordiality. And a certain amount of charm. So, butterflies in the stomach? You'd better believe it.

4 comments:

Karl Steel said...

Not to mention impostor syndrome...which, given that we always imagine someone else possesses the perfection that we can always only lack, simply never fades, unless, of course, we abandon ourselves--as you yourself say, Jeffrey--to the community of the classroom. Sometimes this works (last Wednesday: yes! we started last week) it didn't, but last Thursday, when I ended by proclaiming (and doubleunderline that, please) poststructuralism the most ethical of philosophies, ego, thank god, gives way altogether.

Alex had a recurring nightmare that the world had been taken over by hungry zombies and that he was the only person left alive. He took to sleeping with the covers over his head so that he wouldn't see the undead cannibals when they arrived to ingest him.

Why is the threatened 'last one' dream so prevalent, and when did this happen? My worst young nightmare, 3rd grade, was pretty much Alex's. I can't, however, think of any medieval exemplars (unless we want to count the Wanderer, but he's hardly threatened)....

Eileen Joy said...

It was decided last year that I would take a break this year from teaching any medieval-themed classes [my idea, actually, so I could rest and then refresh the medieval-y parts of my teaching brain], and I am lucky in that, for the first time in about six years, I am teaching two courses that are both repeats of courses that I have just taught in the past year, thereby giving me some breathing room on preparation while also allowing me to fix things that didn't work. As some might recall, I was supposed to team-teach a course this semester with Michael Moore on "The Homeric Dream" to about 120 first-year students, but Michael, that bastard, left to take a position in the History dept. at the University of Iowa [good for him, not so good for me], so I managed to convince my Dean to let me teach the course by myself [with some assistance from other instructors] and I've changed the theme to "Beholding Violence in Epic, Drama, and Film." The link to the syllabus is appended here in case anyone is interested:

http://www.siue.edu/~ejoy/eng111syllabusFA08.htm

Basically, this is a 100-level class that is designed to give first-year students a kind of introduction to the intellectual communities of a university, as well as to some cross-disciplinarity. There are no medieval texts, but there *is* the "Iliad," "Agamemnon," and "Medea," and also some Shakespeare.

And because I am not teaching next semester at all [thanks to a research grant], well, let's just say there is a certain lightness in my step [while at the same time, yes, I have those teaching butterflies].

kitty-iii said...

The best thing about going to college is that you learn how to do things like this:

http://kitty-iii.livejournal.com/5226.html

Oh, and figure 2 in Eileen Joy's syllabus was a bit, shall I say, gory. ha! It's great!

Mary Kate Hurley said...

When I read this (the day I returned to New York after my extended and more extended stay in North Carolina), I was so grateful to be reminded, once again, that we never outgrow first day of class nerves. I'm in my fifth semester teaching, and I'm once again teaching the same course (good ol' University Writing) -- and I was incredibly nervous walking in. You never know who will be sitting there, you never know what they'll be expecting or wanting from the course -- it's nervewracking.

But it's funny -- as soon as I start the class, it all falls into place again, and I remember I do know how to do this.