Tuesday, April 16, 2013

the last class you'll ever teach

A student asked me today what I would do or change, if I knew this was the very last class session I would ever teach.

I think those kinds of projections are problematic, since real situations are more complex and more exigent than imaginary scenarios, but it was still an interesting question. I said that I try to approach every class session as if it were the last class I would ever teach, and then said that wasn't fully true, but was around 86% true.

That's not out of self-satisfaction. I'm almost never satisfied with a class session. I also rarely have regrets or feel like an opportunity has gone by.

But I think he was really asking something else: what violations of protocol or ethical standards would I commit, or what final thought would I express? I'm a little hazier on this. I think I know some things I definitely would not do:

I would not get naked.
I would not give everyone an A.
I would not give anyone drugs.
I would not try to start an orgy.
I would not confess to any inappropriate thoughts or feelings, much.
I would not try to hurt anyone.
I would not cause tremendous amounts of physical damage to the classroom.

Given my career plans, my very last class will likely involve me keeling over. I'd probably play music I think people should hear.

Friday, April 12, 2013

writing inauthentic letters

I have not only taken steps away from the bloggy business, I have also stepped away from a lot of contact, with a lot of people. I don't feel like I have much to say, not because there is little to say, but because I can't say anything that isn't overwhelmed by what I won't say. Right now, I won't say a tremendous amount. [<- double="" entendre="" p="">
My friends, and you random weirdos who are reading this for probably slightly perverse reasons (and good for you! I really do mean that!), I don't believe I am abandoning you. I can tell you I think of you often, and I want to talk to you, and to write to you, but at the moment, there is nothing I can tell you -- nothing honest, nothing authentic.

I keep scheduling time in my week to sit down and write you all a letter. I second guess that impulse because writing is a step removed. Not writing might be less removed than writing. In any case, I continue not to write to any of you.

It was very warm today on my ride home, which was around 9 minutes, cranking the big chainring, but paying attention, for once, to street signs.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

personal questions

It has been a long time since a student has asked me whether I believe in God (here capitalized because that's what she meant). I'm sure many faculty reject every personal question, and maintain strict boundary lines between their work and their personal lives, their own thoughts, histories, identities -- and also, of course, politics, faith, and sex.

This may be a bias due to teaching in humanities, but I think those faculty are doing it wrong. But that means I have to second-guess myself continuously about whether I'm crossing a line I shouldn't, when I am not sure where the line is, and I'm not fully convinced I believe in the line. Plus, if I don't behave as if there is a clear and obvious line, it's difficult -- maybe I should say embarrassing -- to have to come up with an ad hoc reason for drawing it.

Religious ideas come up in philosophy class. It may be fairly natural, in the minds of many undergraduates, to extend that philosophical discussion into a specific and direct question about my own beliefs. Political ideas come up too. So does identity. And sex. If we pretend they don't, we're disserving one another. If we pretend they aren't hypercharged and exciting, we're fooling ourselves.

Sometimes I want to interrupt class and bring all these questions to the forefront, have at them, deal with them in something like a genuine way, regardless of how obnoxious or terrifying any of my students might find the questions, their own beliefs, the beliefs of others, and regardless of the institutional demand to keep the private private.

I don't know to what extent I hold back because I could lose my job so quickly for having offended or harassed a student. I don't know if tenure would make a difference.

I recognize the danger of this kind of openness or confrontation or whatever-it-is. That's what's so thrilling. Am I in the right business, with the wrong approach? Or the wrong business, with the right approach? Or the right business, with the right approach, with the wrong status? Or the right status, but the wrong business? Or the right wrongness, with the wrong status, in the wrong approach to the right business with the status rightness wrong business approachness? Or yogurt?

(Can't be yogurt. I hate yogurt.)