I actually think it's a very good thing for teachers to be students on a regular basis, mostly so that we can remember how totally annoying it can be to be a student and thus stop doing stupid things that are irritating or condescending to students and also have some empathy for the frustration of not being in charge in the classroom.
That was my experience today, and within the first hour I had remembered one of the cardinal rules for being a good teacher, which is, Sometimes you should just shut the hell up!
Which is to say that the woman teaching this class has a wee little problem of talking really fast all the time and claiming that she's running a seminar but actually cutting off everyone else who tries to get a word in edgewise.
The program in which the annoying talking woman teaches is itself pretty cool. Adventure City has this cool program (maybe other cities do as well) in which local college professors, museum curators, independent scholars, and other learned folks offer seminars of one to three days long on all kinds of cool topics. The name of the program annoys me a little bit, because it implies that teachers get to play at academics, but I acknowledge that I am probably way over-sensitive on that point because of my own career path.
The seminar I chose was on modern Muslim women's memoirs -- very cool, eh? So for today we read Fatima Mernissi's Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood, about growing up in Morocco in the 1940s -- very interesting and well-written! When we meet again in a couple of weeks, we'll talk about Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, the graphic memoir about growing up in Iran, which I read last summer and am thinking about including in our sophomore curriculum, and then in the third session in March we'll discuss Joumana Haddad's I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman, which is some sort of poetic manifesto.
So I was very excited about the seminar, both because of the reading and because it's good to have a change of pace and get off campus occasionally and meet teachers from other schools. And all three of those things were in fact very good today ... but the teacher is darned annoying. She has a lot of verbal tics (misusing "literally," adding "as it were" to things for which it made no sense, saying "let's be honest here" all the damned time) which are the kinds of things that I think it would be uncharitable to dwell on, except that she talked so much that it was hard not to notice them, and besides I was feeling uncharitable when she wouldn't really let anyone else talk. She would ask a question, someone would start to say something, and she would literally (and that's the proper use!) interrupt the person in mid-sentence after just a few seconds, assume that she knew exactly what he or she was going to say, "answer" it, and talk for several minutes. The effect of this was that all conversation went through her, which made it initially almost impossible for us to have a real conversation; I for one didn't even bother responding (and I love to talk in seminars!), because what was the point; then -- especially when we got into the Mernissi memoir which we had all read and wanted to talk about -- people started fighting back and interrupting her in turn and talking to each other without being called on and in general trying to claim the space a little more as ours. I mean, honestly, she's got 15 teachers in the classroom, all of whom are used to running our own classes; does she really think we're just going to sit there passively? I should say that my language of "fighting back" is perhaps my own idiosyncratic interpretation; some of the other participants seemed as annoyed as I felt, but most were smiling and seemed happy the whole time. Oh well -- maybe we're mostly just good actors, and perhaps I seemed smiling and happy also.
Also, the teacher referred to herself as "someone who thinks for a living" in such a way as to seem to distinguish herself from the rest of us, and that seriously got my goat. But again, I may be oversensitive on these points.
But let's accentuate the positive here: the reading was interesting; the other teacher-participants mostly seemed cool; one of them is going to send me her syllabus for Arab literature in translation, which I can't wait to get; another told me that her mother went to FGS and talked about it all the time, and when I asked if she thought her mother might be willing to be interviewed for the FGS history I'm co-writing, she said undoubtedly and gave me her contact info; another went to a cool summer program a few years ago that I've been thinking about going to one of these summers, and he's going to tell me all about it next time; it was indeed fun to be off-campus for the day; and I got to wear blue jeans and have a yummy burrito for lunch even though it was a Thursday and a school day. So what's not to love?
But I am going to totally tell myself to "shut up already!" in class tomorrow. Aargh -- teachers who talk too much are seriously annoying, and I mustn't be one!