Thursday, December 4, 2008

response to Jay Parini, The Art of Teaching

This is a book that I remember being interested in when I would see in on the shelf at the OSU bookstore when I worked there and hadn't yet made up my mind to pursue teaching high school. It's funny, but I was a little scared of it. I was taking something of a "hiatus" from college teaching and I was afraid that if I looked inside this book I was discover that I had been teaching all WRONG or something. Or that there were magical things that had to be done as a teacher that I had failed to do. Even now, I approach this book with a little bit of anxiety, since the word "art," to me implies skill and beauty and aptitude, which I have to confess I don't always feel that I have in the classroom!

Interestingly, right off the bat, Parini discusses a bit of this performance anxiety that I have felt as a teacher and that I felt even in approaching this book. He writes about how wonderful it is that in the profession of teaching there is always a new beginning, every September. It is somewhat ironic he notes, that the end of the plant life cycle is the beginning of our our academic one. He discusses the excitement but also the trepidation that comes with being both a student and a teacher at this time of the year. For a child, it means new clothes, new supplies and new teachers. It is a chance to reinvent yourself. I remember personally how each fall of grade school, I would look back at my last year's self and think, "oh, what a geek I was in grade 7. I won't be that un-cool THIS year in gr. 8." And the cycle would repeat year after year. (I have long since become resigned to my permanently semi-geeky status and if anything, have embraced it! ha ha.

For teachers, Parini acknowledges that "the first days and weeks of school are not without their small terrors and discomforts. Indeed, as I was writing this, I got an e-mail from a colleague saying that she hadn't taught in a while, and she was actually frightened of her students. I know the feeling: that dread, as one approaches class for the first time in September. It can be difficult to begin again, to invevnt everything from the ground up, to learn the names of the students, their foibles, their likes and dislikes. There is so much to absorb in a short time. It can make you dizzy with apprehension." (5)

I feel this often, because I am a part-time college teacher. As I write this blog entry, I am checking my enrollment every day, hoping that my women studies course, "Women in Music" will get enough students to run. (It's looking like it will). I want to teach again badly. I miss it. It has been a year since I have taught a college course, and I feel drawn to the whole environment of the campus, the relationships with students, the thinking that I do as a professor, and the material itself. The figures and themes that I teach are old friends that I want to revisit. But in line with Parini, I too have a small sense of dread. For teaching can get rusty, and the best way to build confidence is to have pretty consistent practice. I need to get back into the classroom for this reason. A year is too long to put the teaching on hold.

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