Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why I *ENJOY* Teaching (which is TOTALLY not why I teach "Lit'rature")

This post is inspired by New Kid.

  • I enjoy shaking my students up. I enjoy shaking them out of complacency. I enjoy when they say, "I totally don't believe in any of the things that seem to be foundational to this course but I'm excited to see what I might learn."
  • I enjoy when they're all talking and all I'm doing is saying "Ok, you're 1, you're 2, and you're 3, 4, and 5," and they just talk and talk and talk about the material.
  • I enjoy when I read a reaction paper that says "I was worried when I took this course that it would be a 60-year-old woman who hadn't had sex in three years teaching it" mainly because I'm vain and that means that they think I actually have regular sex just from looking at me:) (Perhaps that's too much information, but it did make me feel better about myself today.)
  • I enjoy that I have students who are freaked out about difficult material and they email me to say that they don't know how to ask for help, even though that is actually asking for help, because they're comfortable enough with me to know that I won't judge them for being totally insecure. (And the material is wicked-difficult, and this student is awesome, and I love that this student is that comfortable with me and at least intuitively knows I won't judge her.)
  • I enjoy those moments when I'm teaching material that shocks them where they think that what I've built up as shocking is totally fine and normal.
  • I enjoy when my students notice the language of a text - talk about it as great writing - when it challenges their persona belief systems.
  • I enjoy that I know what's going on in my students' lives and when that contributes to my interactions with them, even though I like at first to come off as a meanie.
  • I enjoy that so many of my lit majors who've taken multiple classes with me and who are brilliant and engaged have absolutely no interest in grad school but rather that, because of what they've read in my classes, they would rather become novelists (Literary novelists, at that). Because they'd rather make art than criticize it.
  • I enjoy that my students seem to think that the books that I choose for them to read are fun to read (and yes, this is another vain thing, but still).
  • I enjoy that students are engaged enough to take classes with me that are outside of their immediate areas of interest, just because they learn from me (god, I'm so vain. I bet I think this song is about me).
  • I enjoy when my students say a brilliant thing that has nothing at all to do with me but rather with what they bring to the texts that I teach ( and this is ultimately more gratifying and more interesting than all the things I've listed about me).
And, at the end of the day, I enjoy teaching because I *totally* enjoy just getting to know my students. I enjoy when they resist me, and I enjoy when they have that epiphanic moment in a class that changes the way they've thought about things. I enjoy teaching students who are non-majors and showing them that literature is for them, too, even if it's not something they're totally invested in as a career path. I enjoy that moment when they realize that they're not just taking a course for a requirement but when they're actually getting something out of it.

So those are things that I enjoy about teaching. I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones that occur to me right at this moment.


k8 said...

Oooh! I like these - and it doesn't sound all that vain. It's funny, when I tried to do the "why I teach" thing on my blog earlier this evening, it turned out to be a lot about my enjoyment. I wasn't sure how I should react to that development, but I'm starting to feel better about it.

We should enjoy what we do!

And really, I think that a lot of what you said was about you was really about enjoying your students (in a non-creepy way, of course). I've seen way too many grad students, professors, etc., who don't seem to enjoy their students, and that, I think, is a tragedy. I'm so glad to see people writing about what they like about teaching their students!

cps @ Free Exchange said...

I agree with K8 about the importance of hearing from faculty who are great at engaging students and the enjoyment that they get from that process. It has been seven years now since I taught my last college course (gasp!) and these posts of late have really made me miss it--including New Kid's great post on struggling to keep a course fresh for her as well as her students--all of it I miss actually.

Rent Party said...

Oh wow - even more on this! (I was just thinking in relation to your original post on these things, this is one of the reasons I like the blogs: people who aren't the Very Biggest Names at the Very Biggest Schools (the ones you see discuss these things in plenaries, you know) talk cogently about what is really happening in the field / profession / workplace / etc.)