Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ah, sweet catharsis

On my way off campus, I held the door for a pleasant older man. "Are you supposed to be a witch?" he asked as we exited the building.

"No," I told him. "I decided to dress up as the scariest person I could think of--myself."

Ironically, when I stopped by the writing center to get some of the free food they had see my comrades, I told them I had decided to dress up for Halloween, then explained my "costume."

"Oh," one tutor said, "I was going to say--you look like your normal self."

Draw your own conclusions.

Today went quite well. I got my jollies in. And my colleagues got some vicarious enjoyment from it. When I told a couple about my plan, one eagerly suggested I get out my cell phone and start texting. Another suggested stage whispering to the person next to me. I tried to contain my grin as I set off to class. This would be fun, for the first time in quite a while--the class is the one that drives me up a wall and 'round the bend.

There were three essays my little dears were supposed to have read, so I divided them into three groups, gave them a few suggestions for how they could approach their "lesson," then gave them about 15 minutes to get it together. After all, they were supposed to have it read. It was surprisingly hard to cede the role of instructor. When I heard them get off-topic, I steeled myself against the urge to step in. It was their presentation; let them figure things out themselves. I was there as a passive learner.

First group didn't cover the material as fully as they could've, but I had to give 'em points for humor. "Did you guys read this one?" they asked. "Well, we did. Most of it, anyway." They finished off with, "How many of you actually read this one? Two. That's what I thought." And in the midst of that, they learned firsthand the futility of trying to have discussion with unresponsive students. They asked a couple questions, generic 'what did you think' questions, and called on me. "I don't know; I didn't do the reading." Score one.

Second group did a decent job of summarizing the material, but one student was doing most of the talking. And then class fell into one of its many silent lapses. Oh, it was tempting to ask a question or two, bail 'em out, but I didn't. Instead, I put my head down on the desk. "Excuse me, head off the desk please," one said to a backdrop of "oooooh"s. Dropped the ball there, kid, if you were trying to channel the Twit; the correct response is "Am I interrupting naptime?" Points for effort, though.

Third group was the best prepared. They had some discussion questions and prompted students when they gave vague answers. When several students were chatting it up (off-topic), one girl asked if "we're interrupting anything back there?" Oh, hon, a little more assertiveness, and you'd have had it down pat. And then someone said, in response to a question, "I thought you were supposed to teach us this essay." The response was golden: "I thought you were supposed to do the reading." Yes, yes, yes. It seems a shame that my most disruptive act fell during their presentation, but... I don't regret it too much.

This was my coup de grace. My phone went off in the middle of their presentation. I guess it reveals a generation/technological gap, but some of the other faculty were in awe of how I timed it, when I related my exploits to them. Easy--I set the alarm on my phone, using my standard ringtone at full volume. I knew I had set it, but it still surprised me when it went off, so my startled, slightly guilty reaction was genuine, after which I tried to act nonchalant. They figured quickly by proximity that it was me and asked me to turn it on vibrate.

I asked at the end what they learned or found a strength in each presentation, and then what I really wanted to get at, what they learned from the exercise as a whole. Their responses?

"It's harder to be a teacher than it looks."
"That no one reads or participates."
"Teachers take a lot of crap from students."
"I liked interacting with the class, but their involvement sucked and was rude."
"We suck. Never let us teach again."
"It's a little tough to teach when people don't read."
"Proves it takes more to teach a few unfocused college students than meets the eye."

They got exactly what I wanted them to; they might not have gotten as much out of the readings themselves, but the lessons I wanted to impart were not in the book and couldn't really be lectured. We all had a bit of fun. I could see their grins as they swaggered up front and channeled me at my most severe, and at those moments, it was all I could do not to laugh aloud.

It was a fun activity, one I'd like to refine for future use. Minus the disruptions on my part. Maybe.

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