Saturday, November 15, 2008

My demons...

For the last few days, I have been haunted by a nightmare.

In it, I was running a class session using the group discussion format. At the end, during the class debrief, when I was trying to help the class tease out some conclusions from their small group debates, a middle-aged balding Chinese man with combed-over style oily hair, who seldom spoke but who always regarded me with a critical look, rose up and spluttered indignantly and loudly, in Mainland-Chinese-accented English, "You are not doing your job!!!!"

He went on and on about how I don't teach anything in class, how he didn't learn anything from my class, and how my course represents a complete waste of his money.

In the dream, I took a deep breath, and told him simply, "College is not just about reading textbooks." After a pause, the rest of class applauded my answer.

I broke into a cold sweat on waking. Although it might seem as if I had the final word in the dream, I could never forget the Chinese man's look of disgust on his face.

It's really curious as I have never had any East-Asians in my class before, not to mention a specifically Mainland Chinese student. And I have never seen anyone in real life who looks like the Chinese man in my nightmare.

But what he said haunted me deeply.

Especially as I was running a workshop the next day with our new class.

And in spite of the amount of preparation I did and the fact that I had run similar sessions many times before, with very productive discussions and positive student feedback, this time, the session didn't quite work out.

I was flustered, I forgot my usual talking points, I didn't quite manage to bring out the essence of the students' contributions, and I couldn't explain my lecture notes very well. In short, I felt like Sarah Palin, in a particularly bad Katie Couric interview clip.

There was no applause at the end of the session, only some students looking lost, some looking bewildered, and some with a pitying smile on their faces - the same kind of pitying smile I would give to a struggling lecturer in my days as a student.

I had had my fair share of challenges in class when I first started out. But I always managed to win over the students in the end.

This time, I'm not so sure.

Even worse, I feel like an absolute fraud. And for the first time, I feel like packing it in.

I don't think I could muster up the self-belief necessary for my next performance (teaching is a performative art, after all).

The saving grace is, my next session is with a totally new group from another course. Let see if I could wipe the slate clean then.

Anyway, the sun has come out now. Today is a lovely, lovely, gorgeously bright day. I should take heart in that. I'm so grateful that this is the weekend already.

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At Sat Nov 15, 09:52:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger laichungleung said...

I think up to these days, I still have dreams in which I forgot to do my homework or study for an exam. The damage done on me can never be underestimated.

I will take responsibility for your nightmare, that Chinese student is probably a projection of me, the ellipsis spacing exchange, oh man, I am so sorry haunting you in the blogosphere, in your dream as well as your professional life.

You know the last day I was a sub teacher, the kids thought I was some movie star, they all asked for my autographs, it was really heartening though I must say their adulation were totally misplaced. But I will always remember that.

I just thought of The Silence of the Lambs, how are you going to silence that guy . . . .

At Sun Nov 16, 12:14:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Haha, don't worry LCL, I really don't think the bogeyman in my dream was inspired by you at all. If anything, the ellipsis debate was a nice distraction from that nightmare.

Anyway, by now I have calmed down a bit and could reflect properly at the dream, and I'm relieve to find that I could refute the Chinese man's accusations point by point. First of all, the feedback I got from past students have almost always been extremely positive, who went from being completely clueless about my subject to being able to produce publishable work acceptable to conferences and journals. In any case, I don't just run discussion sessions in class, I also do lectures and provided my class with appropriate amounts of reading materials. So it's not true that nobody learnt anything from my class.

More importantly perhaps, if one just examine the cold hard facts alone, I managed to improve my class's results over the past few years, and they were all a damn sight better than the groups did before I started in my job. So I don't think I have not been doing my job properly either.

However, it IS true that I really had an off day last week with the new class. But I am relieved to see now that it really was just an off day, and not because I'm entirely off course where my career is concerned.

If I see the bogeyman again, I'm glad that I can now tell him confidently to feck off - though perhaps not in exactly that language in front of a class!


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