Friday, June 29, 2007


I started teaching this week. And there are stories about that, stories those of you closest to me have already heard, involving American Sign Language interpretors and insubordination and serious language barriers. I understand why teaching this class has fallen to an adjunct instructor. I understand why none of the full-time faculty cared to take it on.

But today I'm less concerned about the innate challenges presented by the course than I am about the fact that I allowed myself to walk into that classroom on Monday, and again on Wednesday, shamefully unprepared. Practically until the moment the class started, I worked full-time at the bookstore, and that kept me from preparing properly, because I let it. Because I'm lazy these days. Because I've adjusted my worldview to permit laziness. I've decided that life without ample time to watch movies and read books and sit on the front porch with a beer is a life poorly lived.

And those things are important. I still believe that. I believe one of the problems with our culture is that so many of us refuse to rest. It's a culture of extremes and of competition, so we can never have enough money or enough friends, and if we know someone who spends more hours at work every week than we do, we aren't working hard enough. All of these contests we enter ourselves in leave us too little time for relationships with the people who mean the most to us, and far too little time to be alone.

But this year I've given myself down-time so excessively that I feel almost physically unbalanced. Almost physically unable to stay organized and keep up with daily tasks and errands, let alone be productive in meaningful ways. And when I'm productive, when I'm writing and teaching and I have a purpose beyond just getting through this next thing, is when I'm happiest, even if it is when I'm busiest. When I have so much on my plate that I can only choose to move through it systematically and laboriously, is when I feel the most organized and when the scattered little pieces of life find a place most easily.

Because I was intentionally keeping almost nothing on my plate when this teaching job fell onto it over a month ago, I couldn't find a place for it and kept just shoving it around, occasionally nibbling at it halfheartedly. When I could have been reading about theory and pedagogy and planning classes, I was thinking vaguely about what I would do the first couple of days of class, figuring that would be enough. With that, I would survive the first week.

Then I walked into class and it was exactly like the time when I was four years old and I walked into a dropoff in the lake. Instead of the surface of the water, I was suddenly looking at sand and seaweed and my own feet. And I couldn't breathe.

I discovered that I had been anticipating cardboard students who were less intelligent and intuitive than the three-dimensional people who sat down in the chairs on that first day. Almost immediately, I felt like a fraud, and I was pretty sure they knew all about it. I was relying on the textbook to direct my daily lessons, and I discovered that the textbook gives me next to nothing to work with. I can't spend six hours a week lecturing over four pages of text and doing interminable practice exercises. I discovered, suddenly, standing in front of ten strangers, that I had never actually been invested in this class. I was steeling myself to go through the motions, to somehow talk my way through eight weeks of class while doing a minimum of planning and self-education.

I should have been reading books about this for the past month. Now I have to throw my whole being into making up for the fact that I didn't. So today I'm going to take her thoughts about routine to heart, and go get a library card and some books. And maybe if I can do that, I can eventually get some writing done and clean the house and return Season One, Disc Two of Deadwood to Blockbuster.

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Blogger Froyd said...

I got faith in you. I think you ran into something a lot of us do...after a year off teaching we kind of approach it like just another job where we'll pick up what we need at the workplace.

I've been doing the same thing that you did...putting things off, taking half hearted attempts at class planning and book picking, and now I'm going to attempt to learn from your experience, and actually be prepared.

If nothing else, you helped me out.

6/29/2007 6:53 PM  
Blogger Laura B. said...

Wow, Amber---we're tuned to each other today, I guess. Your blog entry gave me insight, as well. I can't even begin to describe how I've done the very same thing with my teaching in Red Lake, and how I feel guilty about that yet I need down-time yet then I'm still not very happy-----. Hmmm. Thank you for being so honest in your posts---- I really appreciate it when people can admit that, "hey, I kind of messed up this time..." (I know plenty of people who can't).

And by the way, your writing is really beautiful. The analogy about too much on your plate, then not enough, and nibbling on it.... I like it.

Good luck.

6/29/2007 7:12 PM  
Blogger Loralee Choate said...

I always find it easier to get something done when I have 50 other things to accomplish as well.

Nothing is harder for me than only having one or two things. It feels jarring and weird to try and be lazy and yet productive simultaneously.

You will get back on track, I know it.

7/03/2007 2:04 AM  

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