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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Ruling through fear

So, I think I'm generally a fairly warm and encouraging teacher: intense about the material, sure, but also smiley and energetic and inclined to wacky irreverence. I like this persona, and for the most part, I think my students groove on it.

But I have to admit that I really love doing the sudden switch-up when it's time to let a class know that they're fucking up and I'm pissed. I love that deader-than-dead silence that fills the room when they hear a hard-edged tone they've never heard from me before. When I put on that just-barely-tolerant, "many people in this room appear to be under some misapprehensions about my course policies" voice, with just the barest flicker of a smile at the corners of my mouth--is it derision? Is it a hint of warmth?--ooh, that's grand.

I think this is because, as imperious and bitchy as I can occasionally be in my everyday life, it's usually at some remove: I may gripe to a friend about what I really think or what I'd really like to say to so-and-so, but, even when I'm having an argument with someone, I'm unlikely to take on a particularly commanding attitude. For one thing, I'm never 100% certain that I'm right, and for another, I'd far rather persuade than bully someone. I also don't really like confrontation. But in the classroom? I'm the fucking divinely-appointed, unimpeachable monarch, and every once in a while it's nice to remind myself and my students of this fact.

So today in my class on Author #1--the home of the crappy close-readings--I gave my students a completely unexpected quiz, covering the last few weeks of reading. It was quite doable, dealing almost entirely with things we had discussed in some way in class, but I had a hunch that many of my students would bomb it. Quite a few looked worried as they passed them in. Then I told them I didn't want to give them quizzes, had not planned on giving them quizzes, and found the exercise very high-school--but I felt strongly that not everyone was doing the reading. Then I gave them the, well! let-us-review-the-policies-for-this-course speech.

Much nervous stirring. Someone asked about the quiz.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with the quiz," I said. "I may keep it, I may curve it, I may throw it out. It's partly a diagnostic so I can assess where everyone is. But it's also to put you on notice that you will be having quizzes occasionally from now on, and you will need to be taking notes and doing the readings."

They started to relax.

"So. Are we clear on the expectations for this class? I realize that some of the material we've been reading these first few weeks can be hard to get your head around, and you may find it less interesting than what we'll be reading for most of the rest of the semester. But I really care about the works I've assigned you, and I really believe they're worthwhile and interesting. I expect you to read them carefully, to come with questions, and to at least make a show of enthusiasm occasionally." Then I smiled. "It doesn't have to be REAL enthusiasm, mind you. I'll be satisfied with a convincing imitation."

They giggled.

"So. Can we be enthusiastic? Or pretend to be? Good!"

And we proceeded to have an awesome class.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 11:34 PM |


Blogger Dr. Mon commented at 1:52 AM~  

I love it! It's almost like good cop/bad cop rolled into one.

Blogger Terminaldegree commented at 3:06 AM~  


I love saying, "You don't have to be interested. But you have to pretend to be."

Or, in my best Sherman Potter imitation:
"You'll do it! And you'll LIKE it. Now let's see those smiles!"

You sound like a great teacher.

Blogger Ancrene Wiseass commented at 3:47 AM~  


And yes, it is something else how quickly the atmosphere changes when students suddenly realize that the affable-and-even-quirky instructor is indeed quite capable of putting the smackdown on them, should they push her far enough.

Anonymous What Now? commented at 9:46 AM~  

My family refers to these as "come-to-Jesus meetings," which I think is a really amusing terminology even though it doesn't really match up with my sense of Jesus.

Last year I had an upper-level English class that was really not cutting the mustard, so one day I had a similar session with them, and things did get better. And on the student evaluations, more than one student referred to "the talk" as a turning point in the class.

Anonymous Anonymous commented at 1:12 PM~  

Fearsome Advisor would be so proud.


Blogger Rosa commented at 4:23 PM~  

Wonderful! I rolled the sound of LL saying "many people in this room appear to be under some misapprehensions about my course policies" around in my head. And I got chills.

Anonymous Anonymous commented at 7:23 PM~  

I think you'd fit right in at my institution... or maybe it's just because I find your approach entertaining and nobody else does.

I think every quarter, at least half of my profs have been downright hilarious in one way or another. Definitely all quirky.

Yesterday, just as we were getting seated, one prof announced we were going outside. He proceeded to march all 40 of us down the narrow staircase, out into the courtyard, and waited for everyone to gather. He made us agree on something on campus that appeared to be about 50 feet high. Then he opened up a newspaper, and pointed out a big wave competition with 50 foot waves and asked if there was any way in hell we'd ride a 50 foot wave. Then he said "okay, back inside."


apparently last week (I missed class on this particular day) he brought in some stuffed animals (as in, taxidermy), shoved them in the face of a girl in the front row, and instructed her to pass them around. Then he explained that he could bring in more if we wanted.


Blogger ABDmom commented at 11:31 AM~  

Awesome. You rock, LL.

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