In yesterday's post I mentioned that faculty on the tenure track flip the importance of teaching and research in the way they spend their hours. They overwork their teaching, leaving only scraps of time for their most important work.
I have certainly felt the pressure to overwork teaching this semester; I am teaching two new survey courses for the first time, courses that take me pretty far afield from my areas of expertise. In other words, I am teaching (occupying a position of expertise) while simultaneously feeling like a novice in relation to the course material (Help! What to say about British Romanticism?! Where are my novels!?).
This has me think of a novice "mistake" that sometimes occurs for novice yogis. Many of the poses are meant to feel comfortable when alignment is correct, but they can be very uncomfortable when the yogi approaches them from a muscular "exercise" perspective. How many times have new yogis heard teachers say that downward dog is a resting pose and then silently sworn under their breath while sweating through the posture? Such poses begin to feel easier and more comfortable as the yogi learns to trust the integrity of proper alignment, the power of stacking the bones (Knee above ankle, shoulders above wrists, and so on. And once this alignment is learned, how one occupies the pose is a choice--the yogi might want to feel the fire of muscling through a pose one day ( a yang practice), or perhaps the yogi wants to relax into a posture ( a more yin practice). Both are options.
These are also options when it comes to teaching prep and discussion leading, and I suspect that many of us who are new teachers have a tendency to try to muscle through, rather than trusting that it will be safe to be a bit more relaxed. Instead, we read copious background material, write out lecture and discussion word-for-word (sometimes writing down the "right" answers to discussion questions!), we prepare beautiful slides, and then we rush through class, making sure every point is covered! Phew! That is a sweaty and exhausting practice.
And though that's an option, it's not required. And seeing this may require being a little humble about how necessary we are as teachers, or at least the way in which we are necessary. I had this thought yesterday as I prepared for and then taught a class on contemporary (not my time period) postcolonial (not my region) poetry (not my form). I had downloaded podcasts, printed out articles, polled friends, and read interviews to prepare my lesson on Derek Walcott. But when it came time to actually write down my class plan, I reread the poems "A Far Cry from Africa" and The Schooner Flight, I realized how very little Walcott needs me. The poems give so much to think about on their own. How arrogant to think that I needed to work so hard to mediate between the poems and my students.
This is both an argument for underpreparing and an argument for humility, two things that might not initially seem to go hand-in-hand. But if we think about muscling through as an excessive battle for control, we see that there can be humility in occupying our teaching practice with a bit more ease. Trusting the material, trusting the students, both of which are pretty terrific on their own, both of which, like the skeleton, do the work of holding us up.
Get a Life, PhD
The Professor is In
The Thesis Whisperer
Tenure, She Wrote