Some of my students stare up at me with bleary eyes that say, “I wish I were anywhere but here” as words come tumbling awkwardly out of my mouth in a way I know makes no sense. Some look absolutely interested–you can always tell the kind-hearted, empathetic ones by their encouraging smiles and the I’m-listening-and-I-get-it nods they offer as you make eye contact with them. A few others are definitely trying to be awake, but I think there may be a secret swinging pendulum behind me and a subliminal message in my voice telling them, “You are getting verrrry sleeeeeepy…Your eye-lids are getting heavy…”
Class today is turning out to be a real dud. I knew it would be the moment I started speaking and realized the my brain was functioning about as fast as dial-up internet. Except, of course, for my interior monologue, which is very helpfully saying things like, “The sentence coming out of my mouth does not make sense. The question I just asked is very unclear. I was going to ask another question–wonder what it was? I think there was something I was going to say, but I don’t remember. This sentence used to have a point but has somehow derailed.” You may have noticed that the monologue is fresh out of solutions to these problems. I should have them do a group activity, I think, but I can’t think of anything to have them do. Fortunately, I have a handout for them, so after we bumble through a discussion (or something like it but more disorganized) of the reading for the day, I move on to the handout. I am trying to explain narrative structure to them, and I think they’re getting it. I know that I’m being very repetitive, hoping that some of this information with transmit for them by sheer exposure. I am also hoping that by saying the same thing several times, I’ll stumble across some sufficiently clear phrasing. It seems that I have made my point (though I could easily be misjudging things), and we are officially through the content for the day even though the big hand on the clock is not as far along as it needs to be. So I finish class by asking them how they’re feeling about the big paper we are building toward. They ask some questions and voice some concerns, and I try to answer them. Though they are mostly quiet, and I am only semi-coherent, I think it works out okay because I think they understand that I care about them and their concerns.
Normally, I feel good about a class when I leave it feeling like my students had a good time and got what I was saying to them. When I began teaching two years ago, I felt good about a class if it wasn’t a train wreck, but I had a pretty broad definition for what constituted a train wreck. Much bigger than I do now. If I had gone through a class like today then, I would have felt miserable, as if I had somehow failed the semester by a single poor performance. Now, I just shrug my shoulders a little, gather my things, and head across the hall to the lavender cheerfulness of my office, and know that I’ve built up enough of a credit with them to be forgiven. No one hits a home run every time at bat.