Friday, October 20, 2023

Teaching Observations and Theology School

It has been years, perhaps decades, since I had a department chair observe me teach.  I remember when I was first hired at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, my chair came to watch me teach Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."  It was a great class, even though that story didn't teach as well to a class in South Florida as in South Carolina.

After my chair told me she felt lucky to have hired me, I said, "I'm yours until I run away to theology school."  She quirked an eyebrow at me, and I said, "I don't know why I said that.  I have no desire to run away to theology school."

At the time, February of 2002, I didn't have a yearning to run away to seminary.  I was still very happy in South Florida, and I thought that once I had the full time job I'd just gotten, we'd be able to afford living there.  And for a time, we could.

I didn't feel too nervous in the time leading up to yesterday's observation.  I have been teaching a long time, and I planned a class with Poe stories, which meant I could teach it if students wanted to talk, and I could teach it as a straight ahead lecture.  My chair told me which class she could come observe and let me pick the day.  If it had been up to me, I'd have had her come to the other class, where the students are more engaged, but at least the class isn't hostile.

Yesterday the students most likely to talk were absent.  In fact, half the class, in both classes, was absent.  So my department chair got to watch me lecture about Poe and do a close reading of three stories.  I was animated, and I tried to keep students engaged, so on that front, it went well.  I think it's good to model close reading, but if she doesn't, she won't have liked yesterday.

My students didn't take out their phones too often.  They seemed like they were paying attention, and indeed, maybe they were.  They probably hadn't read the stories in advance--another reason for doing the close reading together.  But she may have wished the students would talk more.  So do I.

She and I will meet next week to discuss.  I'm open to suggestions.  I don't feel threatened.  At this point, I know what I can do and what I can't, and I'm unwilling to twist myself into pretzel shapes anymore to do what someone else thinks I should do.  As an administrator, I felt caught between various groups who wanted me to be someone I only partially could be.  As a teacher, I'm relieved that I'm unlikely to face that situation.  And I'm an adjunct, so I have less at stake.  If I'm not a good fit, I'll move along.

But she's unlikely to tell me I'm not a good fit, so I'm not going to worry too much about next week's meeting.  I'd like her to respond the way my chair did in 2002.  And now, here I am, a seminary student, so no speculation about running away.

Now I want to reread that poem.  Let me find it and post it here.  Thanks to TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics for publishing it in 2018.

When I Run Away to Theology School

When I run away to theology school,
I shall think no more of mortgages and insurance rates.
Sea level rise will recede to the backwaters
of my consciousness. I will eat
whatever is served to me, and I will fall
asleep at a regular hour.

When I run away to theology school,
I will turn off the news. I will submerge
myself in books from an earlier age.
I will abandon the controversies
of our current time to lose myself
in arcane arguments of past heresies.

When I run away to theology school,
I will pray more regularly. I will spend
more time in the chapel. I will write liturgies
and construct worship spaces to match.

When I run away to theology school,
I will finally structure my life in a way
that makes sense. I will strip
my life to its barest essentials.
All will be revealed
when I run away to theology school.

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