Monday, September 05, 2005

One last deep breath

Happy Labour Day everyone ... I hope the weather is clement wherever everyone is, and you can enjoy the last day of the summer, your last opportunity to wear white pants & shoes and not be castigated by random fashionistas.

I am -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- in a contemplative mood today, feeling more than I think I ever have the pivot of my world in making the transition from summer to new academic year. I don't teach until wednesday, but I'm making a concerted effort to get myself back into the academic headspace, reminding myself that I can no longer use the excuse "oh, it's still august" for sleeping in a little later, or knocking off and leaving my office earlier.

I'm taking advantage of this last day of vacation to be very sedentary and do very little. I'm doing my elaborate sunday meal this evening, having put aside a bottle of wine and the second episode of the fourth season of Six Feet Under to accompany what is hopefully going to be a very large lasagna. I have the meat sauce on simmer already, and it is starting to permeate the apartment ... yummy. I figure a seven-hour simmer should be enough to bring all those lovely flavours together. While it cooks away on the back burner, I've been reading, watching TV, and playing the odd round of Counterstrike on the computer -- in other words, enjoying certain mindless pleasures before re-entering the classroom this week.

I am inordinately nervous about teaching this semester, and I don't know why. Or rather, I do know why but am wondering why it's reducing me to a state of stage fright I haven't had since I did my first-ever lecture as a TA in English 020 eight years ago (it was on Othello). Four years as a TA and four years of full course loads as a sessional, and I think I've pretty much got the basics down ... and yet this nervousness. New school? New province? A whole new set of variables that, while I can tick them off in my head, I still don't know what they'll entail? All of the above I suppose, but what worries me is the suspicion that at the root of it all is the nagging question "will they like me?"

I shy away from that, because I shouldn't give a damn; because wanting to be liked by your students is a surefire way to lose respect. My biggest mistakes in teaching were with my first-ever class as a sessional, where wanting to be likable somehow crept into the forefront of my classroom concerns, and I never won most of the class back when I realized what was going wrong and tried to correct things ... but the toothpaste was kind of out of the tube at that point.

My father, who worked something in excess of thirty years as a grade school teacher, vice principal, and principal, often said "If they love me, I'm not doing my job." Sorry Dad, but I realize in hindsight that this is a bit disingenuous -- I happen to know that when my father was a teacher, he was invariably the most popular in the school; and when he was a principal, he struck the perfect elementary school balance: i.e., the primary grades adored him and the grades 7-8 lived in abject terror of him. I'd amend Dad's dictum to say, if they love you, you probably are doing your job, because with love comes respect; if you want them to love you, you're certainly not doing your job; and chances are they don't love you at that point because they have no respect.

Not as brief and catchy as Dad's motto. Probably a good reason I'll never be a political speechwriter these days ... except maybe for John Kerry.

Sorry for the confessional nature of this entry, but it does feel better to say these things out loud. Or to see them in print. Either or.

That sauce is starting to smell good. If the lasagna works out, I'll post a picture of it later ...


Captain Fudge said...

Hey Chris,

I know the feeling. I'm starting at a new school, Malvern CI where I've finally landed a real life full time teacher gig, and I'm a little freaked out. I used to try and get the kids to like me but one day it dawned on me...They're creepy high school kids. I don't want them to like me. I don't want them to get too close to me. I just want them to keep quiet, refrain from sticking a shiv in my gut and maybe learn a thing or two over 10 months. Then I want a paid summer vacation and 2 weeks off at Christmas.

OK, that was less catchy than you or your dads little sayings. Maybe I won't have it stitched into a pillow.

iceman said...

It's normal to have butterflies in your stomach when your standing on the edge of a new precipice; wouldn't be any challenge if you didn't. I've been retired from teaching for 4 years and I still get the first day jitters and I'm not even going into school!Thanks for the kudos and go gitem Tiger!