This evening, I read 33 teaching statements from applicants to St. Martyr’s current job posting. We made the first cut on the basis of cover letters and CVs, and then the second cut for the interview list we’re making on the basis of teaching experience and teaching statement.
It was both uplifting and humbling to read these teaching statements. So many thoughtful, innovative, committed teachers out there!
Reading those statements spurred me to reread my own cover letter and teaching statement from back when I applied to St. Martyr’s. If I do say so myself, it was a damn good statement and very much reflected the enthusiasm that was at the root of my effective pedagogy. And I kept thinking, what is my pedagogy these days? What would I say if I were to write my own teaching statement today? What happened to those innovative teaching strategies I used to employ? What happened to the inspirational stories I used to collect of the students who were being changed by the literature we read, who were writing innovative essays stretching them in new ways? What the hell has happened to me as a teacher?
Here’s the challenge I came face to face with in reading those statements and reflecting on my own from five years ago: I’ve always relied on my own personal enthusiasm for literature as my primary pedagogy, but what happens at that inevitable point in which enthusiasm dries up? This year has been such a season, in which my enthusiasm for teaching and indeed the entire academic enterprise dried up. I am an essentially outgoing and extroverted person, and so the sudden and unwarranted disapproval I’ve faced this year has in many ways shriveled me, dried up my innate enthusiasm for teaching and the entire academic enterprise. And the overwork I’ve let myself in for, especially the service responsibilities to which I overobligated myself, have sapped the energy I used to reserve for my teaching. So if my pedagogy rested on that enthusiasm, what is left?
So this has been a difficult but ultimately useful year, for I’ve discovered that underneath that enthusiasm I had structural pedagogies to rely on when my own enthusiasm was at an ebb. I can no longer waltz into class with simply my copy of the book, a post-it note of page numbers, and a deep well of inspiration as I used to, but I can still teach. I have the tools of close reading, of cultural context, of argumentation and evidence, of analyzing characterization and plot and figurative language and prosody and all of the other assorted accroutement of literary pedagogy. It’s been helpful in many ways to start figuring out the craft of teaching, tools entirely separate from my own interest and excitement in any given moment. Not that I haven’t had positive moments in the last year, but there have only been a few days in which I thought after class, “Wow, that was really fun!”
My goal for spring is to regain that enthusiasm – I’ve chosen to teach a literature course that I think will be both challenging and exciting and comforting for me – but there has been some use to learning how to teach when I’ve lost my enthusiasm. I just hope I don’t have to do so for much longer.