Tuesday, February 05, 2008

trust me, I know what I'm doing

When I took the TA job, I was told that I could do as much teaching as I felt comfortable with. The course covers all of British literature until 1800, and while the professor is a medievalist, my area of expertise is more toward the 1800 end of things. So we agreed that I would teach more later in the semester. This idea doesn't bother me; I like teaching, and I feel fairly confident with 18th century material. I do not, however, feel confident about teaching Chaucer ... which is what I ended up doing last Friday.

The faculty member who teaches the class, whom I'll call "Sister Mary Clarence," called me on Thursday to let me know that the heater in her house had died earlier in the week, and the repairman had given her a window of "sometime on Friday" during which he would appear and fix it. Considering that the temperature here has been in the twenties and thirties lately, that seemed to me like something worth staying home for. So of course I said, "Yeah, no problem, I'm all over that," followed by, "Um, what would you like them to know at the end of the class period?" She gave a few suggestions.

I spent many hours in feverish preparation, and still arrived in class feeling less than confident. The students didn't seem to know the difference. Adhering carefully to my notes, I rattled off some historical data about Chaucer, the Plantagenets, and the Canterbury Tales, and they all wrote it down as diligently as if it had been the Word of God, and not something I'd read in the same Longman anthology they'd all brought to class. It was very flattering.

At first I wanted to laugh at how seriously they were taking me, because in my mind, I was bluffing - it's not like I've never heard of Chaucer, but I wasn't telling them anything they couldn't have found out on their own with a couple of hours of research. Then I started to wonder about my own professors. In graduate school, the classes I've taken have been very specialized, and the professors have been teaching things that they specialize in. But as an undergrad ... I took Early British Literature, for example, from a Renaissance specialist. I am not suggesting that she was "bluffing" to the same extent that I was. It was an excellent class, and she was very knowledgeable. But the Medieval material was taught very differently, and perhaps less in-depth, from the way SMC teaches it. And my professor taught very little about novels, which came into prominence during the 18th century, and are a significant enough genre in English to deserve more attention, IMHO. Do professors ever walk into class and feel like they're bluffing? Surely not.


Nicole said...

i would never.


not much, anyway.

Heidi said...

Yay! I know who you're TAing for, I know who you're TAing for! I love her. She's fab. Tell her I said a big hello and am still loving York, and finally actually almost have a firm topic and manuscript for my thesis. :-D And you can't fool me! I was in postgraduate Old English classes with you. If you can handle that, Chaucer is a piece of cake. AND I happen to know that you were considering going the medieval route as well. So go on with you. No violins from this corner of the world! ;) ;)

Heidi said...

SMC wants me to play informer and tell her what you're saying about TAing... shall I send her to your blog? ;)

Octavia said...

Red rover, red rover, send Sister Mary Clarence on over. There's nothing on here that I wouldn't say to her in person anyway.

Heidi said...

LOL. I didn't figure there was. It just made me laugh when she emailed me and said something about the two of us conspiring.