Thursday, March 15, 2007

Singing for my Supper

[Camera pans right. Picks up a shadowy figure, dragging itself over the threshold and across the kitchen floor.]

*.....gasp!.....Must make fridge........*

[Sound of a cheap but chilled domestic beer being knawed open with eye teeth]


[Very slowly the inert figure - barely lit by the glow of a semi-well stocked cooler - starts to twitch. Figure decides that it's chilly on the floor. Figure realizes how grody the underside of the fridge is. Figure sees a lost pretzel under the cabinet and wonders if there are any more left. Figure decides that life may just be worth living if other pretzels can be found.....]

* * *

This is pretty much what every Wednesday night is like for me. I give two lectures on Wednesday for a total of 5 hours. I lead a 2-hour lecture on topic du jour and then I go and eat a buffalo chicken wrap with the Dutchman for about a half an hour and then I lecture on the same topic again (plus more material) for another 3 hours. I'm on campus at 1 in the afternoon for office hours and I don't leave campus again until 10pm.

I know that there are worse (i.e., more personally trying) things in the world I could be doing for my monthly paycheck. I could be cleaning out trash barges. I could be scraping bubble gum and spitballs of a Taco Bell drive thru menu. I could be working at a chicken farm.

But I realized as I made my way out of class tonight that I have rarely felt so drained after a day's work in my life as I am after lecturing for 5 hours on Wednesdays. It's doing all kinds of crazy things to my body - my feet are in agony after I sit down for a few minutes and get back up; my throat is scratchy and hoarse for a couple of hours; and I'm barely capable of coherent speech.

And it's not like it's the most physically grueling thing I've ever done (not that I've done many grueling things in my day) - it's just that I've never had to be so consistently ON at that level for that length of time.

My Wednesday night class in particular is great (although today they were acting a bit like fish heads) - but I have to say that I really admire these kids - they come to a 7-10 class and about 89% of them really do stick with me for the whole time. And I tell them that I'm happy with the way the class is going, with their ability to stay with me pretty much the whole time, etc.

But I realized tonight that the reason they stick with me for so long is because I make a point of giving them the "Medieval Woman Cabaret" every week. I don't just lecture, I pace back and forth in front of the class (both my Wednesday classes have 50 students each), I make large hand gestures, I tell jokes (some of them, granted, are lame)....I do everything I can to keep their eyes on the prize. And for a few hours on Wednesday, the prize has to be me. Because if it was just the book, then my job would be too easy. The book is enough to keep them going in and of itself for about 40-50 minutes - after that, the dinner show has to come on or they fall asleep in their soup. My show isn't all smoke and mirrors - I'm actually conveying "wisdom" and "truth" (read: a lecture on a piece of literature) - but I need to deliver it in a way that will keep their attention for 3 hours.

And to be honest, I don't blame them for needing a bit of a jig and a few hokey jokes - I don't think I could keep myself interested in an even really cool book for three hours in a large lecture hall. I would be comatose without some serious caffeine and an active professor.

This is just the way these classes are going - it's the way I've come up with this semester to get this material across to the students and excite them a bit about it. In a different semester, I might do different things. But it's working this semester so I'm sticking with it - we have four classes left and it's the home stretch.

So for the next month I'll be singing for my supper each Wednesday and on Thursday morning I'll be hobbling around the apartment on sore feet and squeaking my little voice in protest at the fact that there are no cold Coke Zeroes in the fridge.

I'm really looking forward to hanging up my act at the end of April, but for now...don't forget to tip your waitress.



At 12:08 PM, Blogger squadratomagico said...

Five hours of lecturing? That sounds like the schedule from hell -- no wonder you come home exhausted! But props to you for working so hard to hold their attention. I think skillful lecturing to undergraduates is one of the most difficult things we do.

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous What Now? said...

I'm a cabaret teacher myself (and I love this way of thinking about it!), and it can be exhausting. But now that I've been auditing a couple of classes and am thus back in the student role (sort of), I have to say that the professor's energy makes a huge difference, and I'm recommited to my cabaret stylings.


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