Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Of cocoons and comfort zones

"You are probably more prepared for this class than I am," I told my honors students this morning--not an easy admission to make, but all too true. I had done the reading and prepared some preliminary questions but I lacked the usual ream of notes telling me where to find the important passages in a novel I've never taught before. I had intended to assemble those notes during my trip to Florida last week. Then my computer died. 

I don't often walk into class as unprepared as I did this morning. Fortunately, my students had completed a writing assignment in response to the novel, which provided a foundation for an intense and insightful class discussion. I explained my plight. They commiserated. They have been in my shoes.

This afternoon I stepped into my students' shoes and gave a presentation in the art history class I've been taking. I don't generally get nervous standing in front of a group of students, but this time I was outside my area of expertise, talking about art that tries to make sense of the aftermath of violence. I talked too fast. I fumbled with my notes. I worried about whether my hair was okay, why I was repeating myself, where to find the button for the laser pointer. And I'm not even taking the class for a grade!

Crawling out from my protective cocoon of expertise can be painful; I fear that spreading new wings may reveal their flaws. But it's good sometimes to see the classroom experience from the perspective of students, to know the panic of unpreparedness and drip with the sweat of public performance. And then it's really, really good to walk away afterward and know that it's over and that it was not nearly as awful as I'd feared.

Forget stepping outside the comfort zone. Let's just work on moving its borders ever outward.

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