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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."
"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 |
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