As I looked over my class roster for my summer Intro to Fiction course, I noted two things.
First, ten of the twelve students were male.
Second, seven of those twelve students were seniors, and thus at most three years younger than me.
I was not intimidated.
I was a bit intimidated to face a classroom one third full of grown men.
Now, I am not all that good at judging ages, I’ll admit. But I’m fairly certain that four of these guys are my age or older. (Two I am definitely certain.) And while I don’t tend to have anxiety about maintaining authority in the classroom, I am nonetheless aware that I am a somewhat diminutive female with a dorky sense of humor. (Cool doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. Embrace the dorkiness, that’s what teaching’s taught me.)
I mentally evaluated my opening statements. Those precious ten minutes you have to grab the attention, interest, and enthusiasm of a new class.
They were not geared towards these guys.
I did something I never had before. I put myself forward as a student among students. I acknowledged that yes, I am choosing the material and giving the grades; but I am not a Writing Goddess. I am, myself, a student of writing, and am here to learn with them more than dispense wisdom from on high.
(I don’t remember exactly how I said this, although I do remember I did say I wasn’t a Writing Goddess. Really. Dorky sense of humor.)
And you know what? Tonight went really well. I’m a bit concerned about filling three hours twice a week, but these guys talk, and they respond and build off of each other. And those who didn’t talk were still mentally checked in, which is enough to make me happy, for now.
Going to be thinking a lot about authority in the classroom (particularly the writing classroom) and what it looks like this session. Sometimes I perform weird verbal double-takes, folding my sentences back on themselves as I realize that as the teacher, when I contradict something someone’s said, it carries a LOT of weight, a heft that I didn’t anticipate. Even in a room of guys my age. Like when someone disagrees with something Flannery O’Connor said, and I say that I think they’ve misinterpreted her, and then say something else to reassure them they don’t have to hold Flannery O’Connor in the same high esteem as I do and that they can think she’s wrong if they want to … I wonder what that’s like from the student side of things, if it’s as obvious on the other side of the words what awkward acrobatics are going on.
Either way, though, I am looking forward to this session.