Classroom dynamism

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

I had a brief chat with a colleague the other day. Both of us were feeling a bit down about stuff – it’s not unusual that there are certain periods in the academic year when energy is sapped. In my first college my introduction to teaching coincided with a couple of years when Easter was unusually late, leading to really long Spring terms, and you could see it in the eyes of students and staff. I’m not sure if a lot of students realise how much energy it takes to teach and prepare! (Or indeed, that we actually prepare – well I do, I know that much for sure. I resisted a shouted invitation to a fundraising event last week with the genuine excuse that I had to prepare for a teaching session the next day. ‘You prepare?’ said the student, incredulous. I suppose I could see it as praise but it also worried me that it wasn’t clear to people that I do! However she clarified it by saing that she thought all teachers just ‘made it up’ – which is, I suppose, one of the luxuries I miss about studio cruising: you don’t really have to prepare at all, just art direct all day.

But proper teaching (ahem), well that does sap you. I’m particularly concerned about the way I have to spend evenings and (like today) weekends planning because of my part time status – I’ve no office in which to do it and am not paid for admin time (my hourly rate includes preparation of course, but the fact I have to try and make money in every spare hour means I can’t really allocate the time during the week.)

But I digress. My colleague and I weren’t moaning at the management or whatever (the situation is repeated everywhere, by the way) but simply worried about how long we could keep ‘the act’ up. It’s difficult swtiching off the concerns and delivering what amounts to a performance to students. My colleage was wondering if his students were picking up on his tiredness and if it was having an effect – if we look bored and listless we can’t expect them to be enthused, can we?
The same thing has occurred to me earlier in the week. Last Tuesday I delivered a session that I had planned meticulously and which should have run smoothly, but I was in absolute agony with a food allergy (wheat) that caused me to forget which DVDs I was supposed to be playing, what key terms meant and why I’d written most of the slides I’d produced. When the last student left the room and I heard the door lock shut I was literally doubled over with the pain. But after it had gone I spent most of the rest of the week feeling miserable that a potentially good and useful session must have come across as a badly prepared shambles. And of course it’s these later sessions that get remembered when the students come to write their end of course feedback!

Well there’s nothing you can do about things like that, I suppose, but we are in that time of year when it feels like the last few yards of a really tiring swim, when you’re in the deep end and you daren’t stop because you know you’ll drown so you have to keep going until you can grab the side of the pool. Easter’s only two weeks away now and, although I love teaching, I’m starting to look forward to the break. After Easter, of course, teaching stops for me and it’s back to flipping burgers on Thursdays and Fridays. At the moment the prospect of two days off a week is enticing (you should see the pile of books I’ve lined up to read) but it won’t be long before I start to worry about the bank balance. You can’t win, it seems. Too much to do or too little – and both as stressful as the other!

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