So I wanted to be the very picture of nonchalance at my theory class last night, as discussed in my previous post – no inappropriate water drinking, and no nervous-nelly early arrival. I would breeze into the classroom two minutes before class started and stay away from my water bottle. Well, I breezed in on that timeline, only to discover that I had left my carefully-constructed-for-hours class notes in my office, or so I thought. So I had to run to my office in another building, to get the lecture. Which wasn’t there. I ran back. It turned out that I had printed out the first few pages of my Monday night class’s prep and stapled them to the later pages of this night’s class. Not exactly the recipe for a nonchalant presence; I was freaking out. (I don’t read a lecture, but I do have to glance at fairly extensive notes, otherwise I can’t keep track of where I’m going.) And then, with the water? Well, I stayed away from it, alright. I took one sip – while a student was talking, and not me – halfway through the class. And choked!
But none of that mattered. Seriously, it was the class of my dreams. I winged the first few minutes, and then students took over, essentially. They had done the reading – not always to be expected, especially in a theory class. And they talked and talked, keeping the readings in view and generating the most astonishing observations and analytical questions. I love questions; I even have a blurb in my syllabus about this being a question-driven course. Usually students are allergic to questions as an approach to a problem or text – they want answers. Not these folks! They were figuring shit out – really, soulfully grappling. This stuff mattered to them. And the best thing? They were talking to each other. They were swiveling around in their chairs to nod at each other emphatically. They were all saying to each other, “Oh, that’s an amazing idea. I love that. That makes me wonder if X”. They were building on their peers’ ideas all over the place. They were polite, respectful and enthusiastic about each other and the material. They were being reflexive about their own practice in the classroom, the theory, the discipline. I couldn’t believe it. Who are these students?*
They had so much to say that I didn’t get to even finish everything I meant to do, chiefly my model presentation. But they collaborated with me to figure out how we’d juggle that next week. And when I worried about too-many-students-wanting-to-present-on-the-same-days-and-would-I-have-to-flip-a-coin, they said, “oh, we’re pretty cooperative and easygoing…” I wanted to kiss them all.
I don’t think I had much to do with this. I mean, I asked questions and introduced concepts where appropriate, but their enthusiasm will take them farther than I will, considering the level of knowledge they already have (another surprise). But it made me think about the importance of tone. I think part of why they were so comfortable was that I made myself vulnerable to them in those first few minutes, telling them I’d forgotten my lecture, and laughing at myself about it. I also was trying out a new way of learning their names – I brought a marker and index cards, and had them write down their names and hold them up to their faces. And I took a picture of each them with my cell phone. They thought it was just hilarious, and I really think that levity set the tone that allowed them to make the class into the great time that it was. Tone, tone, tone.
Man, I love teaching sometimes. I called GF right afterward and she said at first she thought there was something wrong, I was so verging on hysterical with excitement. Nothing else gives me that feeling. Nothing.
*In fact, these students are exactly the reason why this is my Dream Job…I knew they congregated at this uni. And it turns out they’re my class in quantity!