Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Lesson One

I used to play school in my parents' basement. I shuffle along the tiled floor in Mom's heels and write on my little chalkboard and grade papers I'd completed for all the students in my imaginary class. I would take attendance and record scores in my grade book.

I assisted with labs in undergrad as an overly permissive grader, wanting more to be liked by the silly freshmen than to have them learn much of anything. By that point - in my very early 20s - I'd realized I had no desire to teach. I wasn't all that crazy about people and it seemed much more efficient to think about topics on my own rather than to tell others what I'd already learned.

My graduate department didn't have TAs - we were all funded by our respective research groups - so I had neither the opportunity nor desire to lecture or grade or deal with plagiarism. Same goes for my post-doctoral research, leaving me to read blogs with an absent interest but no personal understanding of having stacks of grading or early classes or extraordinary students.

"So you want recommendations?" I asked several months ago when a friend of a colleague called. I replied when she asked about my background and was flattered when she said I'd be perfect. (I'm rarely perfect so when people are silly enough to believe I am, I tend to go with it pretty happily.)

Which lead to me saying hello to a group of people younger than me this morning as we prepared for my first of 4 lectures. And by 'prepared' I pretty much mean we stared at each other for a moment.

"So," I croaked, throat sore from a miserable cold I've picked up. "Hi." I shifted from foot to foot, decided I was incapable of standing in the front of a room for 2 hours and took a seat, demanding that we form a circle so we could chat.

I was positively exhausted after an hour.

"You're killing me here," I finally told them. "Listen, I don't do this. And I don't feel well. But ask some questions. Don't sit there with your eyes closed, though I do forgive yawns. Give me something to work with, folks."

I realized, near the end of my presentation, that there was a reason I felt like teachers often lectured directly to me. I have a habit of making eye contact and an inability to sleep sitting up. So - if my behavior today with the 2 semi-engaged individuals is any indication - that I may have been one of the few people who was 1) conscious and 2) not looking down at her desk. Because I just started talking to the people who looked at me.

Anyway, I did not enjoy it.

But at least I have no papers to grade.

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