Class Prep

This is it, the last day of my leave. You'd think I'd be ready for it. After all, I've spent the past couple of weeks reading ahead for the classes I'm teaching, writing assignments and generally getting prepared. But I'm not. Far from it.

I've learned so much about myself and my ideals this year, much of it from writing for myself (and you, my dear readers!) on this blog. I'm not sure I can put myself back into the straight jacket of term. Oh, I'd be one of the first ones to argue in favor of structure; I'm all for it! It's one of the reasons I'm so eager to get a dog. When my son went away to camp in July and suddenly I had quite literally no reason to get dressed during the day, I fell into one of the deepest depressions I've experienced since I was growing up. Part of it was where I had gotten to in the argument for my book; part of it was exhaustion (ironically) after working so hard all year on my research. But part of it was also having nothing other than my own willpower to give structure to my day. I'd say that I would get up and get to campus, and then morning would come and one thing leading to another I'd find myself sitting on the porch mid-afternoon talking myself out of going into the office at all that day. Not that a dog would get me to the office, but at least I'd have some reason to leave the apartment less nervous-making than whether I would find anything to write about that day.

But I have enjoyed my time off from other responsibilities this past year, too. Not that I don't enjoy teaching. Again, not at all! Leading a class through a discussion is one of the greatest kicks I can get in a day; there is, quite literally, nothing that gives me that kind of charge, particularly when the discussion has gone well. But it is, too, a big responsibility. I never feel like I've prepared enough; there's always something else I could do. Having so many ways to bring media into the classroom makes it even more daunting: images, music, video. I could spend days and weeks planning every class meeting and still have things that I wanted to try. Of course, it is possible to overdo it. Some of the best classes I've ever led all I've used was the chalkboard. I usually try to have handouts for class, but most of the real preparation comes from reading the texts that I've assigned and thinking of good questions to ask. See? I am excited, but it's still hard getting my head round the fact that day after tomorrow I'm going to be standing up in front of a class.

What to say? What to say? It's more than just a matter of making an argument. I've heard lectures that do that, some of them very, very good. Okay, that sounds idiotic; of course I've heard good lectures. But I really don't like just lecturing to a class. Learning is interactive. I need to ask questions to help my students think about what I'm saying and I need their answers to help me know whether I've explained something clearly enough. I don't want to have them falling asleep while I drone on about something that I find exciting but that, thanks to me, they don't. I want them engaged and alive when we're talking about the texts, with some real stake in what it is that they are trying to understand, and not just so that they can memorize it for a test. Ha! This is not at all what I thought I was going to be writing about. Maybe I'm more ready for this than I think.

We had a very interesting discussion after church this morning in Adult Formation about Christian leadership. Most of us in the room, despite all being involved in various ministries at our church, insisted that we did not see ourselves as leaders at all but as servants. Okay, so we didn't put it exactly that way. "Christian servants" makes us sound like the pope, "servant of the servants of God." We're not clergy, "just" lay people helping in the ways that we feel like we can. And yet, it's still hard not to feel anxious. The inevitable question: "Am I doing enough?" Our preacher's sermon this morning mentioned various leaders, activists who changed people's lives by their energy and example. None of the things that I do for the church (e.g. baking altar bread, writing Prayers of the People, most recently editing the parish profile) ever feel that momentous. They're just the things that I feel able to do. Perhaps I should volunteer for some of the things that make me feel somewhat more anxious, like cooking for hospitality or the soup kitchen but why when there are others who are actually good at it? The real problem is constantly second-guessing what it is I am meant to do.

I'm too nervous about Tuesday, I can't think straight right now. I need to work on a chronology to hand out on the first day of class and I need to find some place in Chicago that sells paper crowns.* And I haven't thought through properly what I am going to say to my graduates, despite having spent the better part of the month reading the texts for their class. What I wanted to tell you about, before I got distracted with thoughts about how I really should be preparing for class right now, is something that my friend Vinita said in the course of our conversation about Christian leadership. It really struck me as incredibly wise and I wanted to share it with you. So here (roughly) it is, as well as I can remember it: "Most of us are afraid to realize how much power we actually have. We may not think of ourselves as leaders, but in truth, every moment of every day is an opportunity for leadership. We have no idea the effect that we have on other people with sometimes even the smallest gesture or word. Indeed, every encounter we have with another human being is a moment in which we exercise power, which is an incredible responsibility, if you think about it."

How in the world is it possible to prepare for something like that? I look forward to seeing you all in class on Tuesday. ; )

*And aren't you curious what I am going to do with those?


  1. Thanks! I am, as you say, behind already. Apparently, a natural state of affairs for the beginning of term!

  2. I'm so glad that we're not the only ones who are behind at the beginning of term...


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