blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: September 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This is Teaching...

As I sit here writing this, my students are reflecting on the paper that they wrote for our class today.  As they work, they will occasionally look up and make some sort of comment about the project, their state of mind, or the contents of what they are writing.  Sometimes, their comments have nothing to do with what they are writing about.  But they are working.  It is an eclectic group of students -- nursing, business, biology, music.  Only five students and the campus where I teach them is a half hour drive from the main campus.  The course sits at the end of a long day in which I've likely already taught three classes and attended at least one meeting.  Normally, this would be exhausting and three-hours dragging by in the painful way that only night classes can.  But not this time.  Not this time. I am teaching.

To really understand the scope of what I'm talking about, you have to understand that this class is an experiment - an introductory writing class that is half online and truncated to fit into a half a semester.  On some level, it feels like it is set up to fail - sped up, half-removed, tiny.  But, against all foreseeable odds, it is not failing.  It's working.  The students are engaged, active, thoughtful, funny, participatory, and alive.  I do not list these qualities as being somehow different from my other classes, really, I am looking at them solely on their own merit.  I can sum up by saying this: I leave after a fourteen hour day energized.  They are helping me shape this course into something that is actually useful for them and a place where, despite all the elements that made me expect failure, they can succeed.  This is teaching.

You see, none of them want to be here, really.  One of them admits to putting the course off for two years because he "doesn't like to write."  One student was struggling to make sense of what to write and how to write it and another told him, "we will help you."  They are supportive of each other in the face of their own intimidation, fear, insecurity, and doubt.  They stress.  They ask questions born from these feelings.  But, they ask questions.  They will interrupt me to ask a question that is maybe not entirely on task but is about writing and all the nuances of it.  They fret about doing well.  They raise eyebrows at the amount of work and the time period in which they have to complete it -- but then they nod and dig in.  They panic that they can't do it all, except then they do.  This is teaching.

It is not perfect; sometimes, in the online portion of the class, there are more crickets than I would like to hear.  But, then again, that is also partially my fault.  We are all on a leaning curve here, and sometimes we slip down a little bit as we try to find our way.  They are easily distracted...but also easily reigned back in.  This is teaching.

This is teaching.  And I am grateful.