Wednesday, April 01, 2009

"March Clouds", oil on canvas, by Jeffrey J. Boron

Teaching Journal
Day 115, Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lately, I’ve been reading short stories by Katherine Mansfield, and in many of them the protagonist is able to step back, observe her life as from afar, and then laugh at it – something I need to do more of, especially as regards my teaching. I often get way to involved in the “drama” of my work. I regularly get lost in the plot that involves “Mr. Salsich the brave teacher and protagonist” who wages valiant war against the many antagonists that rise up to impede his work -- curriculum, time, even the scholars! It’s so easy, I find, to actually believe the story line – to really think that I am the main character in this drama, and that it’s up to me to make it an overall success. What I need to do more often is what Mansfield’s protagonists are able to do – step back and get the big picture. If I can do that – if I can imagine myself looking down from far away upon this tiny classroom in the middle of this endless universe – I would see my work in its true perspective. I would see that what I’m doing is no more or less important than what the wind is doing outside my windows, or what the maintenance man is doing as he carries a wastebasket down the hall. The worker, the wind, and I are all part of a grand extravaganza that has no protagonists and no antagonists – just on-going present moments that are each, in their own way, perfect. If I could occasionally step back from my teaching like that, I would feel more relaxed about it, more confident that each “performance” –- each class -- will, in one way or another, be beautiful. I might even, like the characters in Mansfield’s stories, have a good laugh over the whole thing.

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It often occurs to me that I need to be more “curious” about my teaching. I need to be more like a scientist who, observing some natural phenomenon, might say, “Hmmm, that’s curious.” Like the scientist who watches the way things happen because she’s curious as to how and why they happen, I need to watch my own teaching and wonder how and why things happen in my teaching the way they do. Remembering a day’s work in the classroom, I should carefully relive what happened, out of sheer curiosity. “Why did I do that?”, I might ask, just as a chemist might question why two liquids interacted in a certain why. “Where did that idea come from?” would be another question, and “It’s so interesting that I said THAT to the girl! What caused me to do that?” If I could treat my teaching sort of like a natural phenomenon -- perhaps a vast and mysterious valley in the mountains – I might be able to recognize the strangeness, the oddness, even the pure nuttiness of what I do. Like an eager scientist, I could wake up each morning with excitement, wondering what curious behaviors Mr. Salsich will exhibit in his teaching today.

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