The hours before I teach feel like the slow ascent of a roller coaster to the apex of its scariest hill. I'm not afraid or even nervous any longer, but I do feel it approach the way you feel a roller coaster car click-click-click its way to the top. Once class starts, it's all hold on and ride it out to the bottom. I don't write my lectures ahead of time. Instead, I use my power point presentation as my lecture notes and move from slide to slide, trying to weave together themes and incorporate class discussion on a frantic march toward the last slide of the day, the one that presents conclusions that damn well better make sense after 75 minutes. I ask my students a lot of questions, but I talk a fair amount, as well. I feel like we work together to get to that last slide, and when we arrive I'm always pleased and surprised that we got there at all. I move around a lot while I lecture. I pace back and forth, talk with my hands (expansively), point at the projector screen to emphasize my points. Today, I realized I'd walked closer and closer to a student as she talked because the point she was making was exciting. Sometimes I sit on top of a table in the middle of the room while I listen to students answer questions and talk to one another. And all the time, my eyes are roving, looking for hands that are up, people who aren't paying attention (if you go stand by them, they put the newspaper away), parts of the room that seem less engaged. And all the time my brain is flying back and forth like hands on a keyboard, trying to make sure that I am hearing my students, making the right points, keeping in mind where the class needs to go next, where we've been, where we'll be in three weeks.
I'm good at this. I'm good at this the way some people are good at playing soccer or tennis, which is to say that it's a physical ability as much as anything else. I spend the hours before the lecture cramming things in to my brain, like a toy on a spring, and then release it. I ride it out with very little contemplation of what to say next. It's all a roller coaster, and once you head down there's no backing up. At that point it's not about what I know. It's not about how well I've planned or how I carefully process what happens from moment to moment. It's just all about doing. Gogogogo. It's happening. It's there and then it's gone and you know what? It feels good.
It's the physical rush I find surprising. I'm shocked by the adrenaline high each time. I'm shocked people don't chase it, crave it, beg for it like junkies. And I'm shocked, as the high and the rush recedes, how absolutely decimated I feel. I'm pounded down, worn out, worked over tonight. Class was hard work. But oh, god, I loved it.