Friday, January 22, 2010

A Case of Nerves

Today was the second day that I met with the ENG 101 class that meets on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So here is the problem that I had today, the second meeting: I keep getting nervous.

I am often nervous on the first day of class with all of my classes but that usually starts to go away somewhere in the middle of the first class meeting. The students start to respond to my stupid jokes and maybe they figure out pretty quickly that I love my job and will do my best to help them succeed. Maybe they decide -- or at least many of them decide --that this class won't be as bad as they think. I don't know -- whatever it is, I usually (though not always) start to get a good vibe going by the end of the first class.

Not so with the ENG 101 class and I think this is due, in part, to my continued nervousness about the research I am doing "on" the class. It's not just that the topic of the course is on race, a potentially volatile topic (What if a fight breaks out in class? It's not like race is an easy topic to broach in Granite City). But my nervousness goes deeper -- I am worried about learning the students' names ASAP so my research notes will be accurate. Or that somehow I won't "capture" the right things in class. Or that somehow I will steer the class terribly wrong. Or that the students will smell my fear.

Because of a Title III grant, I was able to get free books (and flash drives!) for all the students. I handed out the texts at the end of the first day and asked them to read the first 16 pages of Black Like Me, the fabulous docu-text by John Howard Griffen (a man I greatly admire). I started the class by asking the students what they thought -- most of their comments were on the positive side, in the sense that they had something to say (not always something I see on the second day of a class). But during this entire (short) discussion, I kept having this out-of-body experience where I was watching myself, wondering what should I remember for later? Is there something important I should be steering my students toward at this point? Are the students convinced that talking about race will help their writing? What is the name of the student who is talking anyway? So I didn't enjoy the dicussion at all -- and I don't think I was a good teacher either. I wasn't really "listening" to what they were saying because I had this meta-discussion going on inside my head.

So, once again, it came down to nerves. Thankfully, the discussion was short (about 15 minutes). I asked students to spend the rest of the class writing up what they thought about the question "Does Race Matter?" (and to use anything in Griffen's book to respond to). At the beginning of every course I ask students to write up a diagnostic essay, a sample of their writing so I can see what stength and weaknesses they might have -- and they get a sense of how I respond to students papers as well. Today most of the students finished right up at the end of the class period (usually with a diagnistic I see students rushing to get out ASAP; I haven't looked at the diagnostic essays yet but a glimpse showed some interesting thoughts). The students also handed back a student information sheet I asked them to answer and, other than one student, all expressed interest in having me interview them outside of class (a good thing!).

Before the class meets, I am in my office for an hour (after my earlier class). Today, almost at the last minute, I listened (on my ipod) to Farihi from the Laya Project, one of my favorite tunes (see the video I posted below!). I think that helped a little. I guess I just need to breath and relax a bit more. Teaching is fun for me -- I just need to focus on that a little more!

Note: I haven't had a chance to get nervous about the second ENG 101 class I am researching because that course meets on late Monday afternoons and because of the MLK holiday earlier we haven't had a class meeting yet.

In other news -- Odd vet visit. I took Zora, our oldest cat (I have had her since my graduate student days in Washington), to the vet for a check-up. She hadn't been in a long time (she's a housecat after all!) and so this was her first visit to our new vet since we moved downtown (only three blocks from our loft!). This vet was surprised at Zora's age (almost 13) since she has tested positive for the FIV virus (like the HIV virus in humans). Sheri, the vet, said FIV cats don't usually live this long. To make a long story short, she took some blood tests and it turns out Zora does not have FIV. She showed me the blood workup (what I could understand of it!). The other vet made a mistake (she was diagnosed about 5 years ago when we lived in North County). She is healthy (other than being a bit blind). I was shocked! And happy! Zora is my rock -- she sleeps with me, reads with me on the couch, and sits on my lap when I am working at my desk (like right now).

So, there you go. That was how the day went. Tomorrow I volunteer at the clinic early (I have worked at the Hope Clinic for Women for about 4 years now on every Saturday morning helping women do paperwork). Since it's the weekend of the Roe V. Wade decision, I am suspecting that we will have more than the usual crowd of crazies tomorrow. And I will spend the afternoon reading those diagnostic essays from the 101 class! :D


  1. This is so awesome. I might just have to pick up the same book just to follow along. Give yourself some time to get the flow and I think you will do just great. I'm very interested in seeing what transpires in your classes. Since my last name changed to Gonzalez I have had a chance to see how assumptions can be made about your "race". Once funny story.....After Gabrielle was born they will filling out what race she was. It was at that point that my husband and I realized that we had a mixed child that can't be categorized in one box. My husband can't even speak spanish. It was just one of those WOW moments. Now if I can stop getting all those Spanish speaking telemarketers to stop calling me and no I don't need an interpreter! Cheryl

  2. Interesting, Cheryl! And do get the book! It's amazing for me to think that he wrote this book in the 50's and we still haven't gotten as far as we should have in seeing people in a healthier way! And thanks for sharing your experiences; I hadn't realized this was something on your mind too! :D