Monday, January 25, 2010

Teaching and the Fear Factor

Primary School in "open air", in Buc...Image via Wikipedia
1/25/2010: The beginning of Spring Semester. I am teaching three on-line classes. I know that the Blackboard areas have now been "peopled". They are there...waiting. And I am here, outside of that teaching space, wondering who they are and getting ready to make the plunge.

Fear, whether I realized it or not, has long been an accompaniment to my teaching life. What seemed very different about my fall 2009 semester (a decade into my higher education teaching experiences) is that, in retrospect, I seemed to be less fearful.

This realization was a highly Parker Palmer moment for me. His discussions of fear/not fear in teaching related in "Courage to Teach" came to mind as I thought about this.

While the realization about fear/not fear may have seemed sudden in nature, in truth the shift has been long in coming. The more I looked at the fear/not fear issues I could see how so many components of my teaching were connected to it.

My thoughts about fear/not fear over this last period of break, also reminded me of Jane Tompkins book "A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned". Yep, she struggled with similar fears.

When I looked at the before and now picture, this is what I saw:
Before: I was terrified of grading.
Now: I am more relaxed about grading--it's not as frightening.
Before: I was afraid of being unmasked, revealed as less than masterful.
Now: I accept the fact that I am not all knowing--who is?
Before: I was afraid of being attacked.
Now: I am more concerned about my students--do they feel safe? Have I established trust for them?
Before: I guess you could so I wasn't sure of who I was, and I worried that in the exchange with students I might lose me.
Now: I think I am more confident that me will remain despite the exchange.
Before: I talked more than I listened.
Now: I can go slower, focus in more on their needs.

Another thing I notice about the transition is that before, my instructional rhythm was much more chaotic and darting, uneven. I tried to do way too much. Now I find my rhythms a bit more organic...and even though I still try to do too much, I am doing less to get more.

I know that much of this change has to do with coming to grips with inner demons better not mentioned here. I'll wrestle with those in other spheres.

Having written this out, I feel much less fearful. I can enter Spring Semester 2010 with a lighter heart--looking forward to the encounter.

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