My IF course makes me nervous. Not flop-sweat nervous like when I tried to teach Song of Myself without having even glanced at it for several years, but the kind of nervous that’s good for someone who’s been teaching at the same place for 15 years. My course is an honors course on American identity that combines literature, community service, and the IF process. I’ve been dealing with my nerves by talking with students about it, “We’re in this together; isn’t it exciting.” They seem to be responding well. Already we’ve talked about why Lithuanians see Americans as more Homer Simpson than Superman, and 2 students did a report on how “American Woman” can be seen a Canadian attack on the US and as men’s intimidation in the face of women’s power.
I’ve gained from the experience of other IFer’s and so have also built time into the course to talk about why we’re doing what we are–what makes good discussion? facilitation? what creates sanctuary? I shared with them the description of those roles in the syllabus of my small-group-mate Rose Ernst (thanks, Rose; I did give you credit). I’ll use that description and the students’ comments to create rubrics which I’ll use to assess the students and the students will use to assess each other. I’m going to have facilitators and notetakers in each group, and I’m going to use the last 15 minutes of each 75-minute class to talk with all the facilitators and notetakers (who’ll be facilitators next discussion) about how things went and how to move the discussion forward.
The first IF discussion will be next week. I’m going to assign the students to groups (though I found Laura’s comments on random groups intriguing). Being at a small school, I have the advantage of having only 16 students in the class and of having taught 6 of those 16 before. So I’m choosing 3 of the upperclasswomen I know to be strong students to facilitate first and 3 second-year students I know to be notetakers. For the rest of the class, I’m dispersing them based on the traits I’ve observed in discussions so far, trying to get a balance of quiet and more talkative. We’ll see how it goes.
I came across a quote that has helped me see my nervousness in a productive way, to remember what I love about learning and teaching. It’s from David Dark’s The Sacredness of Questioning Everything. Dark talks about English (read IF) classes as a way to cope with the lust and perversion of what he calls “plastic on my mind” (from Beck’s Odelay), the lack of appreciation for others that can come from mediated and commercialized relationships.
“I like to think of English class” Dark writes, “as potentially a deeply entertaining storytelling think tank against perversion, a place to try to become aware of what’s going on in your own mind, a place to consider the nature of real love. . . . a space of sacred questioning where everything is a little more talkaboutable, where one’s consciousness might be transformed and enlivened by word and song and rhyme and reason.”
Here’s to the power of stories to create such transformations.