I am such a bad role model. A bad blogging role model, that is. I require my students to keep up on blogs throughout a semester, and I haven’t posted a new blog in 3 weeks. I could justifiably blame it on being so busy lately, but in reality, I think it is more about being in a private sort of mood these past couple of weeks.
Whenever I watch interviews with reality tv stars talking about wanting to keep certain elements of their lives private, I find that I can relate. Clearly I am not on television, and I don’t think that I would ever want to be. But being a Composition professor sometimes makes me feel like I am just as open to scrutiny and judgement. For one, standing in front of a room full of strangers several times a week can at times be an uncomfortable experience. Over the years I’ve gotten more comfortable with speaking in front of crowds, but even during my first year of teaching as a grad student, I was extremely uncomfortable with public speaking– during my first couple of months teaching, I would sometimes be shaking as I began class! Even now when I am more comfortable, I don’t always know what I am about to say; at least half of the time I am just flying by the seat of my pants, with 20-30 people staring at me as I do so. Because of the uncertainty of what could happen during any given class period, it can be exhilarating, but at times very scary.
It also means that people are looking at me for several hours a day. Now really, if you think about it, that would probably make anyone feel self-conscious. I try to just not think about it.
Along with all of that though,the very nature of the subject I teach is so subjective; it isn’t like Math where I could grade a quiz in just a few moments because there is a right and wrong answer. It’s writing. Communication. There are always misunderstandings or different approaches. And so whenever I assign a score to anything (and believe me, grading is pretty much all I have done for several days straight so this is definitely on my mind) I have to feel confident in my judgement. That can also lead to some pressure because even when I’m not “on” and I take papers home with me to grade in my pajamas, I still in a sense am. I still need to be consistent and fair and know that in some way, everything I say will be judged.
Another thing that comes with the territory of teaching Composition is that it becomes more personal. For one, students are sharing with me their personal thoughts, opinions, and experiences. And along with that, in most Composition classrooms, the interaction between students and instructors becomes a little more personal. And while it is one of the very things that I love about what I do for a living, thinking too much about it can become sort of daunting. Having over a hundred people during any given semester know random things about you, and knowing that even if they don’t specifically know facts about you, they are piecing together clues to figure out more, can feel overwhelming at times. It does make me feel like I should live up to certain expectations, that I don’t want to disappoint people.
I guess that I approach that last idea from the perspective of a student. When I was an undergraduate, I had a professor that I simply worshiped. I thought that he was brilliant, and passionate, and I was so inspired and I would work so hard to try to impress him. He would keep his private life pretty private, but whenever he mentioned his wife and kids I would sort of swoon on the inside, thinking that he was so perfect, this rock star scholar who also had a soft side. I wanted to be a female version of him when I grew up.
And then he left his wife for one of my classmates.
I was so disappointed, and so angry. I felt betrayed in a way. And why? He could do whatever he wanted in his private life. Granted, in this instance it did end up affecting his professional life too, but I had no right to be so upset about it.
But I did end up becoming what I wanted to be when I grew up. I am not a tenured professor with a PhD, but I do try to lead classes with a similar enthusiasm, and I do actually teach in the same department as him now. But because of that disappointment that I felt, I try to lead my own life with a little more integrity.
Except that at the same time, I want freedom to live my life without people having to know all of the details. I don’t need students knowing the details of how I recently spent my 30th birthday, for instance. And so because of that, I sometimes feel this tug of war of wanting to be an open book for my students, but also wanting privacy as I live my own life and do my own growing up.
Don’t get me wrong; because of all of that, I feel so blessed to have one of the coolest jobs in the world.
Also, I think that a television show about an English department at a university would be a winner. It would be a dark comedy for sure, though not as depressing as Wonder Boys (a movie definitely worth checking out, by the way.)