Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A good start

So I didn't mention this, but I won a (actually, the) big Field College teaching award at Commencement last year. The payoff is a bit of money for me, half-a-bit of money for my division, and I get/have to deliver the next opening convocation address--which happened yesterday.

I was nervous. It's always funny to me when I'm nervous about public speaking, now; it only happens when I switch genres--that is, when I do something other than teach a class or deliver an academic paper at a conference. In my surveys, for example, I require my students to memorize and recite a poem, and last year I started doing it, too--and when I go up to recite, I notice that I'm shaking. Recall that I'm reciting in front of students that I teach 2-3 times a week with no anxiety whatsoever. It's funny. (I was painfully shy about public speaking until about my late twenties, when I downgraded to really quite anxious; picking up a 4-4 load at 31 got me over most of my fears by 33. Now, at 38, I don't always know when to shut up.)

So I was nervous. This was by far the biggest crowd I can ever realistically hope to address, unless I'm called upon to give a plenary at Kalamazoo (which, let's note, can't even qualify as a remote possibility). All 168 first-year students, all new transfers, all faculty, the 60-student chorale, parents, visitors, any returning students who took the "Required!" memo seriously, all of the administration, nearly all staff, two trustees, at least two emeriti, local friends of the College, etc. Our 500+-seat auditorium had people standing in the back and along the sides. (Not to see me, you understand, but for the opening hoopla.) I was nervous.

I was also nervous because I'd worked for a long time on my talk and therefore wanted it to be really effective, but I couldn't gauge its quality anymore. This kind of address is more like a sermon than a paper. It's out of my usual scope. And I was afraid that I'd speak to quickly, swallow my words, and otherwise be...boring.

But I think that it went really well. Really well. A number of people (including a colleague who's been at Field for more than 20 years) told me that it was the best address that they've heard at Field, and the president asked me for a copy to give to donors under the heading, "Why the humanities matter."

And...maybe it's a coincidence, but my back-to-back sections of Developmental Comp this morning--the first day--went very well. Perhaps, even if they didn't pay all that much attention to my message (which had to do with how life is more than a job and your individual encounters with ideas, books, etc. ought to call you to change your life), I at least made a good enough impression on our first-year students that they'll be moderately psyched to have a class with me.

I'm feeling good about this semester, which is a radical change from how I felt a month ago, when I had to pick up an overload of Developmental on top of the overload one-credit Honors course I was already teaching (so I have 13 instructional hours this semester, plus I'm chairing the Humanities division--1 4-credit overload in all). These last two days have been good. Maybe I'm more...competent? dare I say impressive?...than I'm inclined to think.

OK, I'll stop bragging now. May I also mention that the student body president's speech was fantastic? And that we both managed to refer to our journeys along a certain medieval pilgrimage route through Spain in our talks? That, I think, was my favorite thing about the whole morning--the only two people at the entire college who have taken that trip both managed to talk about it with the entire campus community in the same morning!

3 comments:

What Now? said...

Wow -- that's a good start indeed! Congratulations on your teaching award and on the fabulous speech!

Belle said...

Congratulations all around! What a way to start a year!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I'm so very, very late on this, but: congratulations!