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January 21, 2012: Teaching again

Today I stepped back into the classroom, and resumed teaching. This was sort of like getting back in the saddle after a long hiatus. It’s just a two credit course, in that respect low stakes teaching. In all other respects, it’s high stakes teaching. I have a lot at stake here. I walked into the room, and there, before me, were 25 students. The feeling was akin to the first day in which I walked into a composition class. That class was special because it was mine, and because it was my first time teaching a writing class. This class was special because it was mine and it was my first time teaching an animal behavior class.

Karen Carpenter gave me a very nice introduction. That got everything off to a very nice start. I was uneasy. I had no syllabus. As I told all present, “I’m a last

minute hire.” Somehow, this worked to my advantage. Some put this in the context of their own situations. Others became intently interested in what was going on. What next? All wondered. I suspect that some wondered if a distinct lack of preparation would result in my falling apart midway through the class. What I didn’t say was that I wasn’t at all worried. No time for that. It was time to get on with it.

We spent the entire time, an hour and forty five minutes, talking. I had students fill out notecards, and then introduce one another to the rest of the class. I suspect that there are some who’d disapprove of this approach, thinking that such activities are a waste of time. I know this is not so. The stories we tell are incredibly important. They connect us to one another, enable us to empathize, communicate. Stories provide us with a context for the more abstract ideas that we’re attempting to get across to others.

I was more than pleased to discover that ALL the students were enthusiastic and wanted to be in the class. This was so different than what I’m used to. I have routinely walked into composition class and immediately had to contend with women separating their split ends, and guys pulling their baseball hats low over their eyes. The latter, in fact has been the subject of panel presentations at composition conferences, some with titles like “Why isn’t Johnny Interested in Journalling?”

I understand. There’s not a whole lot in composition to be excited about. What’s to be excited about, a book you don’t want to read, an essay you don’t want to write? To my credit, I was able to get students involved and interested, but this wore me out. I discovered that it was far easier to work with willful ponies and irritable goats.

Everyone had incredible stories. All asked one another insightful questions. All were respectful. All had a love and concern for animals. The majority want to become veterinary assistants, veterinary technicians, veterinarians.

It turned out that it was a good way to begin, to first find out where the students are coming from, then to start crafting a syllabus. Energy begets energy. I now want to start working on getting a list of guest speakers together, and as well, putting the course material into an organized fashion, based on interest. I have not been as excited about teaching in some time. It’s in my DNA. But that’s another story.

47. 1/22/12: More on Wind, Breast Cancer, and Photography