Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Madness of March

I've always meant to write a blog entry, like, once a week. I wanted to keep a record of the things that have been happening in the last few days, simply because there's a rush of moments that you want to capture, like a snapshot of a second. But seconds march on, heedlessly, and nobody cares whether or not you've thought about things or you've waited to say something, choosing words carefully on a blank page limitless with meaning.

So here I am, and I'm trying to gather my words, to figure out what comes first. I feel like I am standing on a stage, beneath a single spotlight, and in front of me are words -- words that are waiting, breathlessly, for their turn to be called up on the stage, to be festooned with ribbons and awarded with (all the awards?) a prize, a medal or a trophy or a pin in the shape of a mockingjay. They have been waiting for quite some time now.

So let's start.

Silence

I lost my voice a week ago. On a Friday, to be exact. And it's not a metaphor, or an extended analogy about women being silences or whatever. I literally lost my voice.

I think about Gregor Samsa for a bit, whether this was how he felt when he woke up and realized that he had turned into an insect, but really, it was just there the night before and gone the next. But then again, I had been sick: my body had slowly but surely decided to give up, lowering down its defenses because of the sudden onslaught of work: school work and freelance work and personal work.

Nobody tells us that it is exhausting to give up words every day. I speak in front of an audience at least three hours every day. This does not take into account conversations between me and my family, or me and The Boyfriend, or even just casual conversations in the hallways at the Faculty Center. This does not take into account the words I put up online, both in personal and private spheres, or the thousands of words I consume every day, only to regurgitate them back in a moment. This does not take into account the words I write on student papers, the words I write on Pages when I have articles to do and drafts to revise.

Trafficking in words is exhausting.

In a way, it felt nice to not have to talk for a bit. It was frustrating at first, especially since I had a cough and a cold to go along with it, and lo and behold, my malfunctioning reproductive system also decided to make itself known at the same time. But once I was assured by the doctor that it was nothing serious and had given me enough medication to make the bacteria in my throat think that it's World War 3, then I felt like it was okay. For once I could keep the words to myself, keep them together in my head and in my heart, and think about how to parcel them out, piecemeal, towards the most important things.

Observations

One of the most stressful parts of being a teacher is when your colleagues observe you for a pre-determined period of time in order to assess your performance in the classroom. It's not that I have objections about observations per se -- I understand the rationale behind it, and in fact, I am totally in support of it -- but there is a lot of (rather unnecessary) nervousness and stress that goes behind it.

After all, nobody likes being judged on their habits and movements, especially in a classroom space when the teacher's authority is the key to making a class function like, well, a class. When students do not or cannot respect a teacher, then the system breaks down. How do you teach someone who does not want to listen? How can you expect the student to do their best with the given task if they do not even know what the task is?

At any rate, my observations coincided with the loss of my voice, so I spent an additional weekend panicking at the thought of being penalized for the circumstances of my voice. It was also then that I realized that as a teacher, my voice is the most important tool I have. Without it, I cannot teach. Even if you take away my chalkboard, my whiteboard markers, my photocopied notes, I know I can still teach. But take away my voice and I am not even sound and fury. I signify nothing.

Here's another thing I thought about during observations: they are subjective. Of course, there are parameters of what makes a good teacher different from a bad teacher. There are also considerations regarding subject matter. It's an artificial environment, after all. You know you're going to be observed -- it's been planned ahead. You've given your lesson plan. But performance anxiety is part of the process. Entering a classroom is no different from entering a battle field. You want something from the student, and they want something from you in return. It's just a matter of figuring out who wins and who loses.

For the record, though, there's a part of me that's glad I was able to survive them with my head held high, knowing that I did the best job I could do, without disappointing myself. Hopefully, as the semester closes, we'll be able to move on from this (it's my last semester of being observed) and I can finally figure out what I need to do for the next stage of my teaching career.

Students

I've realized that I enjoy consulting with my students. Usually, they come to my office in pairs, with a list of questions that they have about their writing assignment, and I have them articulate what they want to do for their papers. It helps because (a) writing something is sometimes vastly different from saying something orally, and (b) they can hear what their other classmate is saying, and so have a point of comparison aside from myself, thereby triangulating, so to speak, their own writing within the context of the teacher as well as another student.

However, I also have students, though just a handful, who seem blank. I have a hard time pinning them down, or wondering what goes on behind their eyes and their voice and the expressions on their faces. I understand the harried student, the ones who are stressed beyond reason because they can see the careful construct of their semester come crashing down as the weeks wind down into days, hours, minutes. I understand the student who cannot find the words to express what she wants to say, or the student who knows what they want to say but cannot put them together coherently. I get that.

What I do not understand are students who tell me, "I didn't really take it seriously." Like, how serious should we be about this? Shall we take it as a matter of life or death? (I hope not, it's just an English class, after all.) Should I be giving your work due consideration, the way I do with your other classmates, or shall I treat your work the same way you treat my class? How do you reach someone who isn't even thinking about reaching back?

I guess what bothers me is that they don't even care - not the passing or the failing of the course, I think that's something that's inevitable anyway. But rather, that they do not see that each thing that I ask them to think about is an attempt to contribute towards their knowledge, towards their mental acuity, towards their own self-judgment and self-critique and self-awareness. Teachers do not assign work because we enjoy checking papers (please God, let the papers end). We assign them because there is an end goal in sight, a task to be done that will impact another task, and another, and another. Because we know that when you write, you communicate, and when you communicate, you exchange ideas using a pre-determined system of signs that can be understood by two different human beings who do not share anything except an arbitrary understanding of these signs.

And so I wonder if this refusal to take something seriously might extend to something, well, a little more serious.

(Almost) There

There's only a week left before school ends, and there is so many things to do. Deadlines march on, and time marches on, and really, perhaps there's only so much one person can do as well.

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