Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Back to school

It's THAT time of year again, when universities the breadth of the country are once again flooded with a fresh intake of students. Picking my way through the crowds to my first class yesterday afternoon, I was once again led to ponder that perennial question: are students getting younger, or am I getting older? At nearly 37, I am now at least fifteen years older than the third years whom I teach; in many ways we are of different generations. I wonder whether I must seem terribly old in their eyes.

Over the past few years, I have seized upon every teaching opportunity that has come my way. When you are struggling with infertility, it is very difficult not to let those feelings of hopelessness and despair seep into other areas of your life. In my case, the profound sense of failure associated with my inability to conceive translated into an absolute inability to write. For months and months, I sat in front of a blank computer screen and cried. If nothing else, teaching forced me to get out of my pajamas and interact with the world: while I seemed to be going nowhere fast as far as the thesis was concerned, teaching became the one area of my life in which I could at least retain some sense of myself as a competent professional.

Even though I absolutely love teaching, I still find it just about the most nerve-wracking thing in the world. Every year, the responsibility that has been entrusted to me weighs heavily on my shoulders. As I take that first deep breath and bang confidently on the lecturn to call them all to attention, I am shaking inwardly. As I start delivering my lecture and as they start frantically scribbling down every word I say, doubts are running through my head: do I really know what I am talking about? Am I able to communicate what knowledge I do have effectively? Somehow, I can never quite escape the feeling that I will be exposed as a fraud, that the students will complain that they want a 'proper' lecturer.

This year, however, I had to contend with an entirely new anxiety. Over the past few days, I have been really struggling with morning (noon and night) sickness. Would I make it through a two-hour class without vomiting into the wastepaper basket?

Thankfully I wasn't sick, nor (to my knowledge) have any of the students complained that I don't appear to know what I'm talking about. And so I have managed to conquer my anxieties for another year.

8 comments:

Shinejil said...

So glad you haven't ralfed next to the podium! Perhaps you could time it, though, to make a strong pedogocial point, i.e. "Conservative theorists who argue such-and-such just make me want to..." You get the idea. :)

I was overwhelmed with the urge to hug you when I read about your months of IF-induced writer's block. It's so hard to be creative when you're seriously discouraged and depressed and disheartened. I've been wrestling with that lately--even my basic pro writing has suffered terribly from my recent shitfest. I also know the sense that I need to know EVERYTHING to even possibly pass for a competent prof. But I wouldn't want to take a class from someone who's convinced they know it all. Learning to say, "Gee, I don't know that" to a student was one of the hardest but most rewarding lessons I've had to learn.

Good luck this semester!

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Have a great semester (and you know where I am if you need to vent academically!) - yes it IS freaky having the sea of faces looking at you as a fount of knowledge...

I constantly doubt my skills as a lecturer - and I don't even have the effects of IF treatment or all-f-ing-day sickness to fend off. I'm always amazed when students look grateful, informed or just not bored.

luna said...

welcome back to school. glad you didn't have to run to the bathroom!

annacyclopedia said...

Why is it that so many brilliant women I know (and I'm including myself in this category - humble, eh?) struggle with feeling like a fraud? It's so weird and I deeply wish we could just drop that whole thing.

I'm thrilled you've got a new anxiety, although of course I hope you don't hurl in front of your new students. If it happens, I do really love Shinejil's idea of timing it to coincide with a particularly strong point you're making. Brilliant!

Lisa said...

Welcome back to school!! Glad you're fears didn't come to pass and you're enjoying being back! And, I hope your writer's block is easing!

Malloryn said...

I want to wish you the best of luck this semester. Hopefully those symptoms will cooperate with your schedule!

womb for improvement said...

I can relate to your doubts, I get a similar feeling in meetings when I'm talking and notice older, wiser people nodding and asking questions and I feel like I am 'acting' as a professional and any minute someone will notice and tell me to get out. Well done for not barfing, I guess your body has managed to retain some sense of what is appropriate whilst delivering a lecture.

Pamela Jeanne said...

I'm always impressed by those who take on positions that involve public speaking ... it's not something I'm comfortable doing.

I found your description of how IF impacted your ability to feel good about yourself and your professional capabilities spot on. IF can be a soul killer.