Post Academic

Don’t let teaching mess with your head (Part 2 of a series)

"Barrio Juroca en Reus, Tarragona, España/Spain" by Estruch (Public Domain)

Yesterday, I covered some of the things that make me mad when I’m teaching, mostly how classroom interactions with students can make me go Hulk.  Today, I discuss how a few bad classes–with a few bad apples–can really bring you down and make you feel awful about humanity, particularly yourself!  It really is a vicious circle: You take a poorly executed lesson plan home with you, let it stew, then those bad vibes and that cloud over your head go back with you to the classroom, and so on and so on…Somehow, you’ve just got to break the cycle and take a deep breath.

Here’s some more stuff that I get worked up about teaching…

I’m angry when I feel like a grumpy old man: Do you ever chalk things up to “generational difference” as a defense mechanism to explain away you might not be doing a particularly great job of teaching?  Or get in the mode of saying, “When I was in college, [fill in the blank]”, after teaching a class that you stayed up late to prepare, only to notice your students web surfing even more than normal?  Or how the thought that, “These kids have no respect!”, go through your mind in the middle of executing your lesson plan, only to have the whole class go off the rails because you get too fixated on that students texting right in front of you, as if it didn’t matter whether you saw it or not?  If you have, like me, take a step back, a deep breath, and tell yourself that you don’t need to let what’s left of your own youth go to waste becoming a grumpy old man before your time.

Continued, below the fold…

"Please keep off the grass, Great Court, Trinity College, Cambridge" by Hans Wolff (Public Domain)

I guess it’s this strain of elderly cantankerousness that inspired my grad student friends–most of whom are older than me–to give me the nickname “Daddy”, and it wasn’t because I wore a cardigan with leather patches.  It’s because I can get on a curmudgeonly streak that makes you’d think someone skateboarded across my lawn or that I was an image consultant for the McCain campaign.  When I get on one of those rolls, it’s best for me to remember that I wasn’t always the most respectful student myself all the time–or, wait, does reminiscing about the “good old days” of college actually count as a senior moment?

I’m angry when I realize I’m being holier-than thou: That’s right, I, too, have slept through my share of lectures as an undergrad and I can’t say I haven’t dozed off in a grad seminar where there’s no place to hide–really, why is it that a snooze during a class or (worse) while you’re at a stoplight seem like the best sleep you can possibly get?  Yeah, I’ll check my Blackberry for email or on how my fantasy baseball team is doing while attending a lecture by an eminent scholar.  So in the end, I’ve come to the realization that I’m probably not so different as I’d like to think I am from those students who make my blood boil, which I guess makes me more depressed than angry.

I’m angry when I start to think it’s not you, it’s me: Trying to put yourself into the position of your typical undergrad student like this might not only be futile, but it might also open a Pandora’s Box of feeling inadequate and paralyzingly self-conscious.  While all the things you’re worrying about in front of the class are probably reduced to visceral reactions of “This is kinda interesting” or “This is gonna be on the test!” or “I’m bored”, it’s hard not to think about whether it’s your fault that everyone who’s not glued to their laptops for legitimate and not-so-legitimate reasons is staring out into space.

What’s worse is when you start stressing about whether your class likes you or not and you begin to do things to entertain students to get them to say good things about you on Rate My Professors, in spite of your own better judgment and scruples about teaching to the eval.  I know that I try to act all tough about Rate My Professors and student assessments of teaching–even here on the blog–but it’s hard to be completely impervious to popularity and criticism, even the kind that is completely hyperbolic.  I don’t know if it’s personal or professional self-preservation that magnifies every little comment when you’re a vulnerable adjunct trying hold on to your academic future, but the one thing I’m sure of is that it can trigger a downward spiral of defensiveness, insecurity, and crabbiness.  So don’t let it, even if you have to play mind games with yourself or come up with incentives not to give into the temptation of peeking at RMP.

Next time, I’ll try to vent my bad feeling in a more constructive way, trying to unpack some of the structural difficulties that grad student instructors and adjuncts run up against.  On the other hand, maybe that’s a topic even more frustrating and maddening…

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