Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stage Fright

I have been teaching philosophy at the university level for twenty years now. I love teaching, and I've had some lovely recognition as a teacher, including a university-wide teaching award two or three years ago. So you might think I'd be confident as a teacher, that I'd leap out of bed and skip over to my classroom with a light heart on each teaching day. You would be wrong.

Even after two decades of teaching, I always wake up on teaching days with a sick feeling in my stomach. It feels impossible ever to be prepared for teaching, because the classroom experience has so much in common with improv theater: even in a large class, it isn't just a lecture, or a performance; there is always interaction with an audience, and with an unpredictable audience, one that can ask ANYTHING or say ANYTHING, and then it's up to the teacher - that is to say, to ME - to incorporate that into the shape of the hour somehow. And what if the audience says NOTHING? What if I call out, "Give me the name of a town! Now give me a career - policeman, fireman? Now give me a common household object!" - and nobody says anything? If they just sit there in stony silence and I have to create the whole improv routine out of nothing at all?

It doesn't help that for some terrible reason I don't seem able to prepare for class until the day of the class itself. As soon as I do prepare, I start to feel better: surely they will have lots to say about THIS! But I don't seem able to do this the day before. And I always feel better once I actually teach the first class of the day, vastly better: oh, I DO remember how to teach, I do, I do! But this semester, I'm not teaching until the afternoon: my class is from 12:40-2:10 (note: an hour and a half is a LOT of time to fill). So I have all morning to fret and fidget, which is what I'm doing right now.

Okay, I'm off to prepare. My particular bunch of students this semester is wonderfully lively and engaged, so I know class today will be good. Or at least I hope it will be. But what if - no, don't think that way! Go off and actually prepare the darned thing! Go!


  1. I always thought being a teacher would be scary. It seems like a very stressful position to be in. But you're a great teacher! And I'm pretty sure I nominated you for that award (they used to send e-mails to us once a year asking for teacher nominations), so I'm glad you got it!

  2. Thanks, Leah. It's a lot easier to be a good teacher when one has great students like you.