Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lecture Coaster

I've been trying, for a while now, to write a post about the experience of lecturing my own class. I've realized that I'm having a hard time because, for as much brain power as it might take to write a lecture, the actual experience of giving the lecture is wholly physical for me. It comes from gut and spirit and something not altogether of this world. When I lecture, the world shrinks away, and I'm left standing in a classroom on an island, trying to keep my students afloat with just the right combination of words.

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.


Blogger Scrivener said...

[nodding my head.] Yeah, that's pretty much the way it is, beautifully described.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Nicola O. said...

What an evocative post. I can't think of any experience I've had that's quite like that, but I will say that after 20 years, I still remember that one of my best undergrad profs was extremely physical with his lectures. He was a spry old guy that biked to class, and lecturing on mechanical statics and dynamics. I can still picture him sparkling up at the board, proclaiming, "it's just the moment! and torquing his whole body to one side in demonstration.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Puzzled said...

It's just all about doing.

Sing it, sister! :)

3:21 PM  

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