Taking Chances – Teaching Beyond the Text

One of the strange things about being a full-time graduate student and a part-time college instructor is that you’re really not hired to “create” content as much as follow a set of guidelines already laid out before your time… lessons passed down from generations of other student/teachers that you mildly modify to suit your teaching taste, particular students, etc… Something strange happens, though, when you feel like deviating from this design. There is a fear. There is a danger. There is (gasp!) no extra pay or assurance of future employment. There’s also a lot of extra work.

The most difficult thing about the job is that you don’t typically know what you’ll be teaching until right before you teach it. For instance, I was once handed a new translation of an acting book (literally “hot off the presses”) and asked to create a syllabus for the semester (and, ultimately the year, in under a week to teach a course to theatre majors in the department. While we are typically able to accomplish such tasks sometimes reading 600+ pages and planning a semester is a difficult task. It is for this reason that deviation is difficult for the student/teacher.

This past week I deviated a lot. I always deviate to a certain extent because I have a very different style of teaching than most. This week, though, I deviated a lot. I took a risk teaching about something not in the book, covered (specifically) by the outline of the course, and certainly not something my Film students would expect to be learning about (though it is very much related). I think my TA’s were confused (because I created more work for them) and the students may not have completely understood (probably a fault of my teaching… but I’ll find out later when they turn in their assignments.) This did amazing things for my teaching, though. I learned that it is important to bring my interests and passions into the classroom in a direct way. Mostly I bring my personality and enthusiasm (in addition to the normal qualities of knowledge, etc.) but I will start bridging the gaps between my personal interests and the subjects I teach. Not only does this interest me but it also provides an additional educational opportunity for my students. They wouldn’t learn what I taught from any other Film instructor and it is important that they have an awareness of the issues I presented. So… I just fused lots of interests: passion, future research, and content. Not bad for a Monday.