Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Entertainer

Just before I began teaching for our local community college I ran across a quote that said something like, “teaching is 5 percent preparation and 95 percent performance.” I sent the quote along to my friend who, along with me, would be teaching History 101, but this would be her first teaching experience. In an effort to reassure her I felt the quote was apropos. I was trying to ease her nervousness about standing in front of a room full of students about a subject that was sure to bore, but that we, as historians, found fascinating.

Having had many opportunities to be in front of an audience myself in one capacity or another, I wasn’t too worried about my own stage-fright. What had me on edge was knowing I would have to be very knowledgeable on my subject if I was going to teach it. Little did I know how nerve-wracking the experience would end up being for me and how performance was indeed a huge part of my presentation, but that without preparation I would sink like a stone before this pool of eyes before me.

It’s not like I don’t know history. I went through the same classes these students have in my own quest for a college degree. I then immersed myself in history and anthropology graduate work so my knowledge base was intact. It’s just that along with my educational preparation, in order to teach it to someone else I need to know the subject matter really well. Scary prospect when the details have to share room with all the other mundane and important stuff that’s crowding my brain.

So my friend and I met before the semester began. In hindsight I realize how wise we were to prepare the outlines of every class in advance. We broke up the chapters and each class topic and spread them over the coming weeks with a little room for tweeking where necessary. After that, all we needed to do was read the new book the students would be using as their text, come up with creative ways to teach the subject matter, and inspire the students to learn it. Doesn’t sound too difficult, right?

It was that last part, the learning, that caused me so much distress over the past months. I said to my husband one late night as I furiously prepared for the next day’s lecture, “Pride sure is a motivating force.” I said that because I was literally knocking myself out making sure I knew everything I needed to know before I stood before the students. God forbid that one would ask a question that I didn’t know the answer to. The preparation, unlike that quote, was consuming me and I was paying the price for it. Sometimes I feel like a stand-up comedian working a very tough and resistant room. Creativity is key but sometimes, as I implored my students, history can’t always be fun – it consists of a lot of facts that have to be presented.

I am a few weeks shy of the end of the semester. Only two more chapters to go and the creation of the final exam.  I can see a relief on the horizon and I am anticipating the last day of teaching. I have laid the foundation for my class and will be much better prepared when classes resume this fall. But I am exhausted! Here’s an example of the white board after a recent class where I made the students contribute (a concept much harder than you’d think to accomplish).

I may have bitched and complained, even cried at times over the last few months wishing my only responsibilities involved getting out of bed and reading a book for fun. But the truth is I wouldn’t trade my current career activities for anything. I get make my own hours and my “boss” is a group of kids that I can bore or entertain at whim. The best part of all is that while I’m teaching them, I am also learning so it is a win-win situation.

“A good teacher is like a candle -
it consumes itself to light the way for others.”

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Back in the Saddle of Writing

I have neglected my blog posting for too long; I can feel the itch in my fingers to share some more Lisa Wisdom Based on Life Experience. Trouble is, I don’t know exactly how to start. I have lots to say but some of it is pretty personal stuff and not my story to share.

That’s the complicated thing about writing about your life; there are others on the periphery, some much closer to the inner circle than others, that are hard to ignore in the telling but who don’t ask to have their private life made public. That’s why I believe, at age 52, I am still holding on to my life story in book form. If I can’t tell the whole truth, than I would feel as though I was not giving a true representation of my life. But there are details that will offend some, anger and/or embarrass others. I run the risk of losing people in my life because I told my version of things as I witnessed it, which is not how someone else might have experienced it. I have already lost a very important person in my life because she didn’t appreciate my take on how I viewed the split between my families after the death of my mother and father.

So, of course I am a bit hesitant to put myself out there and risk another abandonment. Yet, in many ways I feel I was born to tell the story of my life, including the encounters that have formed me as a person. I am a compilation of all those who have touched me; I didn’t create this personality all on my own, didn’t form the opinions from thin air. Every experience I have had, each and every person I have met, no matter how brief, has informed the person I eventually became and am still becoming.

I hope it doesn’t sound vain, but I have always associated myself with a song by one of my favorite artists, Natalie Merchant. In her song, "Wonder" (Tigerlilly, 1995), she sings about a girl who astounds the world with what she brings to it. Here are the lyrics:

Doctors have come from distant cities
Just to see me
Stand over my bed
Disbelieving what they're seeing

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god's own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation

Newspapers ask intimate questions
Want confessions
They reach into my head
To steal the glory of my story

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god's own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She'll make her way

People see me
I'm a challenge to your balance
I'm over your heads
How I confound you and astound you
To know I must be one of the wonders
Of god's own creation
And as far as you can see you can offer me
No explanation

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able

The part where people “see her as a challenge to their balance,” how they are confounded by her really hits home with me. I am pretty sure I have had that same effect on many people in my life.

I also associate the song with my two daughters, especially when I have gone through moments (and there have been and still are many) when I was worried about them or concerned about their happiness. I found comfort in the words, “Know this child will not suffer…know this child will be gifted, with love, with patience and with faith, she’ll make her way.”

Although I didn’t know how to begin this post after a bit of an absence, the very process of writing it has gotten me warmed up. I will be back soon with another in a few days. With so many things happening in my life, I know I needn’t worry about material.  Here's one of the reasons I've been preoccupied.  Meet my newest grandchild, Rain Catharine.  Born one week ago today.

See you all soon.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

No Time Off

Writing a new post is always on my mind, but my present day-to-day business infringes upon my ability to do so.  Every single moment of my day seems to be occupied with preparing for my next class ( I teach four college classes), entertaining or educating grandson Aiden, pulling weeds from or adding plants to my garden before the hot summer Las Vegas heat sets in,watering said-garden, making meals, or trying to fit in a walk around the block.

I am up by no later than 7:00 am, which is the time I write after catching up on local news.  So today I was able to type out a quick post.  As I anxiously await the phone call that prompts me to jump in the car and drive the 5 hours to welcome my new grandaughter, I will try and produce and publish a more substantial post soon. 

Happy Easter to those of you that celebrate the holiday, Happy Day all others - in any case, have a beautiful spring day to all who stop by for a quick look. 

Promises for a new post soon, no matter what other obligations try to pull me away!