Monday, August 21, 2006

Teaching and changing

So I did this little quiz I saw at PowerProf's. About how much I have changed in 10 years. (And am not reproducing the little thing here because I am such an idiot with this - know nothing about html - and it is reproducing all messed up and I don't know how to fix it. Fuck.) Anyway, it says "You have changed 40% in ten years. Ah, the past! You may not remember it well, because you're still living in it. While you've changed some, you many want to update your wardrobe, music collection, and circle of friends."

Now, I know I shouldn't take a blogthing too seriously. But frankly, there are some irritating assumptions in the little blurb...I'm certainly not living in the past...ten years ago I was living somewhere different, on the cusp of ending a very different relationship, beginning my fifth and last year of a BA, not imagining a future in academia but in magazine publishing (when I could imagine a future at all), spending time with very different friends, listening to entirely different music, and shy. Shy, shy, shy.

One of the things that makes me happiest about my life, though, is continuity with some friends. While I have continued to make new friends over the years, including some close ones over the last year, there are half a dozen people in my life that I've known for fifteen years or more. I love this. It doesn't feel stuck, to me; the relationships themselves change, too. A ridiculous ex of mine, whose reason for living seemed to be to criticize me, once told me that yet another sign of my essential evil was that I had so many old friends in my life (when I was twenty-three - good lord!). To her, this was an indication of my being stuck in some tradition-bound, conservative past. I scoffed as hard at this then - in the midst of making new friends and exploring decidely untraditional things in my first year of grad school - as I do now.

I digress, though. What I really came to Blogger to talk about today is personality change, and how lately I've realized that much of that has been accomplished through teaching.
That shyness that I mention above...the accompanying lack of confidence...? Not entirely banished, but certainly not debilitating. I can't say that I'm a big fan of the crowded house party full of strangers, but I can deal. And I can appear, in certain contexts, positively gegarious. (I'm pretty at ease with the social scenes of academia - I've always read this as a sign that I was meant for this life. By contrast, when I worked in publishing, I was a teeny, silent mouse...)

I realized a couple of weeks ago, when I was at camp-for-adults, just how much this has to do with teaching. I was a TA for six years, and in the midst of that, when I was off living in France, also an adjunct teaching one course. I remember that first year of teaching - I was teaching two-hour seminars - as one of the most frightening, nearly paralyzing, experiences of my life. I incarnated the publishing mouse in the classroom. But by the end of those years, I was a relatively confident teacher. And could feel a shift in the way I related to people outside the classroom...I did things - blind dates, etc. - that would have felt impossibly audacious, before.

And then I became a professor, last year, and taught much larger courses and many more students. And had to be "on", as a professional figure, constantly. Camp was what showed me just how much further this has pushed me. The last time I was there was before this year of full-time teaching. I remember the social awkwardness I felt there...who would I sit with for lunch? What would we talk about? Could I show up at this ostensibly open cocktail party even though I didn't really know the hosts? Etc., etc. This time, I didn't think twice about any of that. I was generally quiet, but not worried about claiming space.

I see this as a great thing. It is clear to me that teaching has had a transformative impact. I'm really happy for what it's done for me. Life feels easier.

And taking it back to the classroom, and my persona in there: What a treat it is to be going in to this second year of professing with the greater degree of self-possession that last year gave me. I was full of anxiety last year, and the first few weeks were terrifying to me. I was so negatively keyed up, so worried in front of my big classes. I couldn't sleep for fretting about it. This year, though I'm sure I'll be nerved out to meet new students (I hope I'll always have a small, healthy dose of that), I feel as if I can focus instead on the content of what I'm conveying to them in those first few, important meetings. Hooray for that.

No comments: