Wednesday, March 09, 2011


I teach college composition.  No, I teach in a computer lab, not a one room school house as pictured on the left, but what else do you think of when you think of teaching?  Rulers? Chalk? Alphabets written in comic sans?  Well none of that applies to my college classroom experience either.  Not even the chalk board -- we've got dry erase.

What I've found over the past few years is that some classes -- some groups of people, really -- bring their own energy.  You walk in and people are talking to each other, they talk to you, you talk to them as a group and at least someone responds.  These groups of people have thoughts they want to share with each other even if they are not necessarily course-related thoughts.  I encourage that.  I love "coffee shop" classrooms, where the students feel as comfortable verbalizing their own random association as I do -- and I'm very comfortable with off the wall or fucked up metaphors if it gets my point across.

Not all groups are like this.  Oh, I wish they were.  Alas.  Some groups don't want to chat.  With each other.  With the teacher.  At.  All.  They don't want to elaborate when called on.  They will chat on their phones to people of their choosing, but they choose not to bring that energy into the classroom.

In those situations as teacher I can feel the energy suck.  The normal-person energy I bring to the group is not enough to light up the room.  The lights dim and flicker.  The computer screens brown out and -- if I'm having a really bad day -- black out completely.

Those are the B.Y.O.Energy classes.

It's taken me a long time (half a semester) to realize that one of this semester's classes is a B.Y.O.Energy.  I thought they were getting into the swing of my discussion-based coffee-shop-ness a couple of times, but it still wasn't enough energy to propel the class forward and make things feel like they were clicking along.

Recently, I found the energy source for the class: me.  Me behaving (a) exuberantly and (b) teacherly.

I can do the teacherly stand at the board and lecture thing, I think it benefits the students more if they can sit in a circle with me have a discussion, but I can run either kind of classroom.  Some classrooms shut down when you go into stand-at-the-board mode.  They take notes and stop engaging with you.  Some classes (particularly the B.Y.O.E. classes) tend to like the set up.  They know what to expect when you behave as the traditional teacher and they as the traditional student.

Crazy.  So, now to revamp the rest of semester to stand and deliver -- oh and ham it up with the kind of energy that can only be considered wild and crazy for 8:00 AM.

Highly Recommended