Tuesday, December 9, 2008

So seriously, was it one or two?

Today I had my senior-English-major-only course over to my house for muffins and coffee instead of class (it was our last day). My house is tiny, as you may recall, so it was a bit crowded--there were 8 of them--but it was really nice. They've been a great group and I've loved teaching that class.

Later I was thinking about somebody's post--forgive me, I can't remember whom it was exactly and I don't want to guess--about how the classroom can be a refuge. [ETA: It was undine, here.] The idea surprised me at the time, but upon reflection, I think that I can see it: I've become a lot more comfortable and even happy in class this semester. (Last year was so scary and fraught that, while I enjoyed teaching some of the time, it was not associated with happiness.) Okay, I mean, I'm always happy when I'm done teaching for the day, so it's not like I'm just super psyched to get in there and teach me up some comp or anything. But when I've been stressed, or tired, or grouchy, teaching usually snaps me out of it--at least for the duration of the class. I think what happens is that it takes me out of myself enough that I drop a lot of my stress (and the adrenaline handles the tired part. Also, oddly enough, I never have to go to the bathroom or even feel particularly hungry during class. Afterwards that all comes back, of course...but I digress).

Something else occurred to me today. I do believe that, in every meeting of every course that I've taught this semester--barring, perhaps, the first week, when I tend to be a little more stern--I have laughed at least once.

Now that's a nice thing.

I use humor when I teach, as so many of us do, and I've grown better at getting students to laugh at my jokes. Gone are the tumbleweeds of yore. Also, I think that most of my classes encourage an informal and relatively light atmosphere that gets students making occasional jokes about the texts, too. Usually these are on topic and actually push the conversation along, since they can help to make a text or discussion more accessible and let us approach it from a different direction.

Sometimes, though, they just get silly. I will share a story with you from my beloved senior seminar. This happened on the last of our four 75-minute sessions on Margery Kempe. Now, I don't think that we exhausted the text by a long shot, but that might have been too many classes on that book. Certainly they did not love Margery. True to what everyone else who has taught this book has told me, my students were not big fans--although they really enjoyed everything else that we read this semester.

So anyway. Things started to fall apart when we discussed Margery's marriage to the Godhead and how that happened some time after her marriage to Christ.

"Wait," said A, who apparently hadn't understood this passage. "You're telling me that she just kicked Jesus to the curb?"

"She likes older men," said B.

"Dude, it was his dad, too," said C. "That's rough."

"Keeping it in the family, I guess," added A. Then: "Oh, I am so going to have to confess this on Sunday."

That was the start. Then we got to that weird passage where Margery is taken to a church by a priest, who also brings along one or two children. I was describing this passage, and how the one or two children are in the church, and then the one or two children say something, when C said, genuinely aggrieved:

"Hang on. Were there one or two? Couldn't she tell? Normally you know if there's one or two of something in front of you."

"It is strange," I began, but

"They're really small," interrupted E.

"One is actually sitting on the other's shoulders. And they're wearing a trench coat," added F.

"Maybe they're twins...and they keep ducking in and out of the room.... Like, 'Now I'm here! Now I'm not!'"

At this point, the class was done. Between the very vivid mental image I had of Jesus being literally "kicked to the curb" and C's outrage at these strangely indeterminate children, I was incapable of making whatever point I had been planning to make about the importance of children in the Book; I was actually giggling and tears were starting in my eyes. It was 5 minutes until the end of the hour. "I think we're done," I said.

That clearly went beyond the limits of productivity, but I think that we had surpassed those limits anyway at that point. And in general, it's pretty terrific to have a job where I'm laughing, often, every day.


squadratomagico said...

That's awesome! Really! I love your students, too!

undine said...

That is awesome! Made me laugh, too. (And I wrote about the classroom as an oasis the other day--was that maybe the post?)

heu mihi said...

Undine--yes! That was it! I thought that it might have been you, but I was afraid of guessing lest I was wrong.

Good Enough Woman said...

Great post. And why don't students like Margery better? I teach survey courses, so we usually just do the anthologized stuff, but how can they not dig on the stuff? Maybe it's because they feel so sorry for her husband the whole time.

Flavia said...

Damn. No wonder you liked that course. They sound awesome.

My favorite recent moment in one of my own classes was when, in teaching The Tempest, someone compared Prospero's first conversation with Ariel to an exasperated dad whose kid kept pestering him from the backseat about whether they were there yet.

"ALL RIGHT!" Said another student, in a deep, dadly voice, "if you kids don't settle down, I'm turnin' this island around!"

Fretful Porpentine said...

Good Enough Woman -- Hee, one of my grad school classmates suggested that the class should collaborate on a parody called The Book of John Kempe. Poor John!

I rather like MK in small doses, but I have to admit she would be annoying as heck if you were going to Jerusalem with her. (I'm always amused by the way she seems to get along much better with people who don't speak English than people who do.)