Tuesday, June 20, 2006

teaching 4

You know that John Cale song, "Fear is a Man's Best Friend"?

Standing waiting for a man to show
Wide eyed one eye fixed on the door
This waiting's killing me, it's wearing me down
Day in day out, my feet are burning holes in the ground

Darkness warmer than a bedroom floor
Want someone to hold me close forever more
I'm a sleeping dog, but you can't tell
When I'm on the prowl you'ld better run like hell
You know it makes sense, don't even think about it
Life and death are just things you do when you're bored
Say fear's a man's best friend
You add it up it brings you down

It's a good song. Teaching classes brings it to mind.

I've found two main ways to be when teaching -- two ways that I am when I teach for the library.

One is -- I project my toughness, my hard skin, my mean eyes out into the crowd. I project a slight disdain for my students. I send an armored voice out against the back walls, and it bounces around like a gunhappy-sonofabitch. A student slides in her seat, sneaks a chuckle with a pal, sighs too loud -- I grow more distant, more disgusted, ever more tired. You don't need me? Well you'd be wrong, sisters and brothers, to think I need you. I know this already, and I'm doing you a favor by being here. I'm the guy you need to talk to. I'm master-control.

Two is -- I see the humor in this situation. I breathe from my center, my belly, and I chuckle plenty. I look them each in eye, and move spontaneously, like I would in my kitchen. This is just a set of tools, and it's very far from personal. Stick with me for an hour, and let's learn how to find information. I'm a messenger. I'm nearly, actually, in the way of the message. I get over myself, quit hanging loose in the doorway, let the information about the information come through as clearly as it may. Better if you don't even notice me. So: right from the center, and with humor if at all. You've got it; you're a smart mob.

So that's the ways it is with me. I like the latter, better. The former cranks up as defensive maneuvering when I feel nervous (and I feel nervous lots when I'm up in front of a crowd). The key to calling that second attitude in is to slow down, breathe from my belly, and, as best I can, try to be centered in the here and now.

I can be the bearded alpha primate commanding attention, demanding understanding from my audience -- or I can just act from my center, be myself, accept the nervousness enough to realize that there are far more important things happening in the room. These students are learning how to use their library, and some for the first time. This is it. Here and now. The only way I can be attentive enough to meet this need is to get out of the way a little more. Play a little, if it takes that, to deflate my own fears and let these people learn.


Watching: John Cale: Fear (Is a Man's Best Friend)
Reading: Libraryola:"Opaque to the Untrained Eye."

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