You learn a lot in graduate school, useful things like knowing what “intersectional feminisms and critical praxis” means and being able to talk to the lay people about it. But the one thing graduate school doesn’t always prepare you for is how difficult teaching a college class can be. We spend so much time trying to understand WHAT THE FCUK Lyotard is talking about that teaching can often feel secondary. If you’ve made it all the way to a graduate program, well congratulations because you’ve successfully boozed and slept your way through undergrad so you think you know enough to teach college kids. But nothing can really prepare you for teaching a bunch of twentysomethings.
There you are, suspended in front of a room of people who are mostly gathered to hear what you have to say, and you have to keep them entertained for up to an hour and a half. You’re fighting people who haven’t read and you’re up against Facebook and Instagram and Grindr and Twitter and Pinterest and doodling and daydreaming. What do you do to keep the rhythm going?
I try to make my classes as fun as possible. I teach about pop culture, which everybody likes and has an opinion on, so that makes it a little bit easier. But like, I also come to every class in sickening looks Miss Honey, yaasss, and I try to create a space where people feel comfortable talking. So often students don’t feel comfortable talking at all, though that might be because they haven’t done the reading, not that I’m pointing fingers!
No matter how fun I try to make the environment, though, there are things I’m constantly worried about. I’m worried that one of the students will open up Grindr and see my profile, pass it around to the rest of the class. I’m worried I’ll accidentally say something that makes somebody feel bad, even though it’s not what I intended. I’m worried nobody will take me seriously because I look young. I’m worried everybody’s bored, disinterested. I’m worried that I will open up my laptop and, Jesus, I forgot to close one of my tabs of shame, so now there’s an animated GIF of two dudes and a tranny getting it in, right next to a key passage from Foucault. Worried I didn’t close my iChat and somebody will send me a booty-IM that everybody will see because ineviably at that exact moment my computer will freeze and I won’t be able to X-out of my PowerPoint fast enough to close it. I’m worried my fly is down. I’m worried I spilled lunch all over myself in a place only they can see. I’m worried that, even though I look amazing in this sequin catsuit, WHAT IF I BEND OVER AND THAT BITCH RIPS???
We may not remember much from our own college years, but we do tend to remember the best and worst professors. They are the ones who encourage us, who gave us our first “C,” who wrote letters of recommendation for us, and who give us stories to tell for the rest of our lives.
I will never forget the professor I had in an undergraduate seminar on Existentialist Philosophy, a bad ass all-black wearing radical lesbian who could have easily been the fourth member of Le Tigre. She usually came to class a few minutes late, and her little quirk was that she always started the lecture down the hall. Like, she would just roll up into the classroom having already started the lecture on Kierkegaard, as-in loudly having a convo with herself about him before she came into the room. Then she would sit on the table in the front of the room and cross her legs, slowly, very Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. Everybody was afraid of her because she did this thing where she would call on you and let you talk and talk and talk. She bobbed her head, squinted her eyes and went “mmm” to get you to believe you were going the right direction. But when you finished she just shut you down and was all, “That’s not the right answer.”
I’m willing to bet my Existentialist professor crafted her persona on purpose to keep students interested. She hasn’t been fired yet, so I guess it’s working. Maybe being a good professor is about knowing the material but giving students something else to hold on to. And that’s why I like teaching, because you’re directly engaged with the process of learning and you get as much from students as much as they get from you. But whatever, I’m only doing this so I can get a couple chili peppers on ratemyprofessors.com.