I always have jitters before I teach early in a semester, but in this summer session, they’ve been particularly bad. They didn’t start to go away until yesterday, which was the fourth day I’ve been teaching.
Cicero said that nervousness before a speech was a sign of a good speaker; namely, it means that you care about what you are going to say and therefore you possess the core of what makes for a good speech, i.e. authenticity. I’ve said some version of this to myself before going into class this week, but I think the real reason the jitters/butterflies have been less present is not increased self-confidence, but growing comfort with the students. It’s when the students are an unknown quantity that I start feeling nervous.
This summer session is also the first time I’ve taught freshman composition in over four years, so that may also be a cause of additional stress. It’s not that I fear teaching composition, but rather that I fear not remembering how to do it. The last four days have done a lot to reassure myself that I still have ‘it,’ whatever ‘it’ is. I certainly didn’t have ‘it’, at least completely, when I started teaching in ’04.
I’ve learned since that writing is not mastery of grammar/usage, it is not inspiration, and it is not even an expressed distillation ofÂ reading, though those admittedly form supporting roles in a larger play. The leading roles for teaching writing are played by critical thinking and genre familiarity, i.e. style – or at least that’s what I think currently.
For freshman comp, I’ve gone back to a book I tried once halfheartedly – They Say/ I Say. It’s too early to report total success, but I feel I understand the purpose of the text more, and I can more easily wed its genre insights to a reader, which in this case is Rereading America. RA is more politically aggressive (some of the reviews on Amazon think it is pure leftist tripe) than I’m used to in a textbook, but there’s always reading against the text.