Vanishing blogger re-appears

I am alive! I’m just… well, I’ve been sick, and teaching, and my *boss* has been sick, and all in all there’s not been much blogging-time available to me. And what I do have I’ve been devoting to more creative pursuits, like learning to bake bread. But I learned a thing this semester. I learned a lot of important things this semester, including “the fact that E. Joe Johnson’s Once there were two true friends exists and has done half my work for me”. But this is a teaching-related thing.

I learned just how generous, tolerant and supportive students can be. I don’t know why this was a surprise to me – after all, *I* used to email my favourite teachers with little cheerful notes and LOLcats, and still do. But it’s a novel experience being on the other end of that dynamic.

What happened was, I got sick. Not critically but consistently. And the medication I was given made me a very special sort of person for a week or so. I’m normally an extrovert, but my attention span went out the window and I bounced off the walls a lot (the payoff for that was that I kept having to take naps in the afternoons. Thankfully there are couches in the postgrad labs). Now, conveniently, what I talk about when hyperactive (or drunk, or half asleep, or… almost any state of mind, really) is medieval literature, so with the aid of a pre-prepared list I figured I could teach class, and I did. It was a very strange class and my students had to keep reminding me what I’d just said, but we got through the discussion portions with a good dose of humour. I still had to mark tutorial presentations, and dealt with that by asking those specific students for transcripts.

I told my classes I was sick, and more or less what the side effects were doing to me. I thought long and hard about that – about balancing my privacy (it’s none of their business why I’m sick, or what with) against things they had a right to know because it affected their classroom experience. I thought about “asking them to make changes in their assessments to ensure parity” versus “jeopardising my standing as a Figure of Authoritative Marking Wisdom”.

In the end it came down to a) they *needed* to know in order to sort out some sort of parity in the marking and b) if I want them to tell me about things which affect their learning and behavior in class, then it really ought to be a two-way street.

And it seems to have paid off. We sorted out a way around the tutorial papers, we all had a good laugh about how scatty I was (I’m starting from a high standard of scatty, so this was impressive), and I was really touched by the warmth and concern my students extended toward me. So far as I can tell, it’s had no impact on their respect for my academic judgment. I had a pretty awful week, and the only people I saw outside of my household were my students, and the fact that they were so damn nice to me is something I’ll appreciate for a long time.

One bonus upside is that there did seem to be an immediate shift in the way students who’d presented me their disability accommodation details interacted with me – nothing drastic, but it seems like after I had been reasonably open with them, those students were a bit more comfortable talking to me both formally and informally. That wasn’t something I’d planned on, but it’s definitely a valuable bonus.

I’ve made a number of risky teaching decisions this year – mostly to do with just how open and personal I am in front of a class. I think most of them have paid off or at least not gone utterly pear-shaped. This was perhaps one of the most risky – certainly one that many people including my doctor would advise against. But I’m glad I made it, and my students here are fantastic.

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