Monday, August 18, 2008

take no prisoners

I'm writing this from my back porch. Late summer in CO = 74 degrees, light breeze, hummingbird hovering over the agastache that smells like licorice when I rub my hands against the leaves, and lots of green tomatoes on the vine. It's hard to tell how many of them will actually ripen. The sun is shifting to the south part of west these days, so frost isn't long in coming.

That means that no matter how irresistible the pull of the garden, it's time to get back at it. Same time, one week from today, I won't be counting tomatoes, I'll be teaching.

The pull of the classroom is (finally) becoming irresistible, too. Coming off my sabbatical, I was worried that this might not happen. At a party the other night, though, a colleague reassured me. Without saying something terrifying like "It will be like you never left," he said I would be able to fall back in line. And he made that sound not so terrifying. He said I would be okay.

Right now it feels like it could be true. Over the past month, I've found myself jotting down random lines from magazines, books I'm reading, my own brain, and thinking about how to weave them into my teaching. I'm reviewing the texts I've chosen, bookmarking blogs, and dog-earing journal articles. Will any of it be relevant? No way to know for sure without being in the heat of the teaching moment, but I'm obediently collecting just in case.

Another (potentially) good sign: I'm making lists.

I like to make lists. I like to check items off as I complete them. Doing so at the beginning of the semester allows me to feel smug and industrious. I remember this feeling. But as the semester progresses, the trouble with my lists (and, unfortunately, the plural form is accurate here) is that they breed like bunnies, and before long, I'm only feeling crazed.

Syllabi feel like lists to me. Lists of lovely promises: I/you will...teach/learn, assign/read, request/complete, grade/produce. Everything feels expansive and possible in August (i.e., "After taking the course 'Teaching Reading,' by golly you'll be able to teach reading! Your students will not only be able to read, they will do so with enthusiasm. Bookstores will lure them. You will be thanked."). By December, though, all of us are deeply resentful of those same promises, pulling all-nighters, skimming. Students complete projects begrudgingly, and as they grade said projects, profs kick themselves for making so many assignments in the first place.

Today, though, I came across an article called "The One Who Is Not Busy." In it, Zen Buddhist Norman Fischer talks about being "prisoners of the list" as we realize (again) that there aren't enough hours in the day to do all that we need or want to do. He says,

"But the point is not how many things we have done or will do in a given amount of time; the point is how we do what we do."

As I read that this morning, I substituted "taught/teach" for "done/do," as in:

"But the point is not how many things we have taught or will teach in a given amount of time; the point is how we teach what we teach."

"Learned/learn" works here. "Wrote/write" and "read/read" do, too.

As I move back into Eddy Hall this year, I know I'll be clobbered again by the temptation to become the prisoner of my lists. I know I'll want to be counting tomatoes rather than how many more projects are left in my stack of grading. I'm writing this entry to remind myself that I can't teach it all, no matter how ambitious my syllabi. In fact, maybe being less ambitious would let all of us learn more in the end.


Bud said...

I do so love the way you blog, the way you put so much of you into your writing. I hope you've got "write more blog posts" on one of your lists. And that you continue to find it worth doing.

Cindy O-A said...

It's there, all right. I'm teaching CO301D, so I have to practice what I preach, right?

They set their blogs up on Monday!