Monday, September 25, 2006

Student connection

I have been thinking a lot lately about the kinds of feelings I have for my students. This first cropped up for a couple of weeks ago, with the shootings at Dawson College in Montreal. That event was extraordinary in that cameras were on the scene immediately, while the event was still unfolding inside. So on the news that night there was endless footage of students streaming out of the college, running, crying, with their hands on their heads at the order of police. The sight of those traumatized students horrified me, back on campus in the first week of classes and surrounded by students who looked so like them. I couldn’t stand the mental picture that developed, of the students I cared about – just by virtue of their sharing this academic space with me – being in danger. Of their fear. It hit too close to home and made apparent to me the true range of feelings I have for my students.

My extraordinary class the other night made me nearly hysterical with excitement. And it was all about the students – even though I had just met them the week before and this was our first real class, I was bursting, just bursting, with pride. I had already fallen in a kind of love with them, it seems to me in retrospect. Maternal? Platonic? I don’t know.

And I think about my grief upon leaving my students at last year’s university, how surprised I was at the depth of that feeling.

I don’t know what to make of this. I think of work on the gendered nature of caring in education, and wonder about that. I think Carolyn Steedman has an essay on how this plays out in universities, and I’ll have to look it up. But beyond that – or maybe in spite of or maybe in addition or maybe woven into that - it seems to me it’s some kind of gift, maybe. That I get to have this much feeling for all these lives that touch mine so fleetingly. And maybe it’s that I’m love with the combination of knowledge and people – with people’s fragile senses of hope and possibility instantiated in knowledge. I think that may be it – in the classrooms I’m in, I watch knowledge-making put people in touch with their best, most genuine selves. It always, always shines somewhere out from at least some students’ inattention and lack of preparedness and disinterest. That’s it – it’s that each time, I teach I see evidence of people’s engagement with something other than themselves. And it’s powerful enough to rise from the murk of boredom and alienation. Seeing that happen – in real time – is amazing. And it shapes how I think about them in general, because it's ultimately such intimate insight.


Texter said...

I'd love to read that essay by Steedman, since I was so taken by her book Landscape for a Good Woman. I've always thought the love of a teacher has the potential to be a noble love, not dictated or constrained or defined by blood or family ties. For me, it's about a shared space where we deliberate together - and for a moment we create the world. Alas, it is only for a moment. Currently, I'm having some trouble finding the core of my teacherly love... I'm tired after hours of my own writing, selfish, impatient and distrustful. I expect I'll find that love once again, when I'm more in balance. I think it matters too whether you teach majors and advanced students or beginners. Do you ever feel disappointed when the love is not reciprocated? Well, I suppose you did write about grief which is disappointment in a different sense.

Hilaire said...

Noble love - that's a good way of putting it.

I think you're right about differences depending on the level. I found it lot more unsettling to teach first-year students and breathed a sigh of relief about existing only in the realm of upper-year students this year. Although when I think about it, there's something particularly rewarding about first-year students actually rising up to the challenges of a text - because they seem so far from that normally, their leap to attention is that much more spectacular. but I find that I infantilize them a little bit, which certainly does not fit the profile of noble love!

If I actually do find the Steedman article, I'll give you the reference.

Texter said...

Also- I'm happily listening to the Lewis' lectures. Wonderful. I'll definitely use them in about two weeks. I'll let you know how it goes.