Wednesday, January 25, 2006

On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year

Awake! (not Greece - she is awake)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake
And then strike home!

It seems a lifetime ago that I lived for Byron's words, when poetry was the thing that brought me to life. I wasn't even sure, as I sat down to write, whether this was the correct year; and it wasn't until I sat down to write something while anticipating my 36th birthday that I even remembered the poem.

Reading Byron was like waking up from a dream. To read the start of the poem is the feel a rush of life into you - to feel something that you haven't felt in maybe a decade - since the depression grew so deep that it drowned out the poetry. I left my books behind when I went to Michigan - no more Byron, no more Yeats. Somehow, without realising it, my workd grew smaller. All that remained was Christy Brown - and eventually even his words faded and were forgotten.

And after the depression had been pushed back, I no longer cared. I stopped writing - I didn't have the passion, I didn't have the hurt. But it was so much better than what had gone before that I did not mourn what I had lost. I still do not mourn it - it was a more than fair trade. But until this moment, until I clicked on the Google link and read the words: 'Tis time my heart should be unmoved, Since others it hath ceased to move:

To read those words was to feel something come alive - and yet it was a chance to appreciate the beauty and the sorrow without letting it overwhelm me. Before, when I read those words they were true, I read the poem and I became it. I read Yet, though I cannot be beloved, Still let me love! and I knew that it was true, that no one could love me, that I would never be loved. Now I know that it isn't me speaking, it's Byron. Then I did not know the difference.

I remember when 36 was ancient. I thought that Byron's death was perfection - he was old enough to have lived, but still young enough to care. While it really sets into stark relief my own lack of achievements, to compare my life to Byron's, it also serves as a kick in the ass - it serves to motivate me. But it does so in a good way, not in a hopeless way.

Turning 36 is still a big deal. I wish I didn't have to teach. Not because I feel I shouldn't work on my birthday - actually it's a fine day to work - it's ok to go to work on a day over which you feel ownership - you, Andrew Ridgely and India. What I would have liked is a little quiet time for reflection right around 11 am. Well, maybe I should take into account the time difference, and celebrate 9 am instead of 11 am. If I get ready early enough I'll have a few minutes to reflect.

I always get an itch almost, over the first 25 days of the year. My age is the year. So to be 35 in 2006 feel wrong, and it only feel right when my birthday finally arrives and I, too, and 36. Like a racehorse, my "true" birthday is January 1. But at the same time, it's always a little weird to get a year older.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Teacher as performer

It comes back to the same idea of teacher as performer. Overheard someone in the coffee shop talking about a really good prof - one who had him on the edge of his seat, wanting to be the one picked to answer a question. You've gotta think - "wow, how does he do that?"

The first excuse that comes to mind is both simple, easy and lazy. "Oh, it must be because he gets to teach classes on exciting, controvertial topics", or "oh, he has an upper level class with a more engaged student body". And then you think about last semester, and you realise that no, it's your own fault. You had the chance, and although it was your first semester (for one of the classes), you just didn't get into the things that would have really engaged them. Sure, if it were my class I could make it more exciting...

Well, I pretty much "own" my sections of General Botany. How do you make cells and cell division exciting? How do you manage to engage them? Well, let's see - what is tomorrow all about? Cells and microscopy. Not very exciting, you say. And you are somewhat correct in the position. But that's really just lazy thinking. You need to ask the question "what can I do to make the material more exciting?" But there I am stumped. How do I excite people about plant cells? Simply being excited about the material isn't really good enough.

What is the consistency of a cell? Solid, liquid, gas, solution or colloid? Not very exciting - but you can make it engaging. Cytoplasmic streaming is always cool, if I can get them to see it clearly enough. And how does vinegar affect the cell? Well, it denatures the protein. So I need to introduce them to the idea of proteins, and how pH affects the structure of a protein. I suppose that might be the right place to start - after I get them looking at the Elodea leaves, hopefully.


I realised something very interesting today - I'm having fun teaching. I suppose, since it's the fourth semester that I am teaching this class I should say "it's about time". Summer wasn't bad, but it was difficult to teach two classes back to back - now, after doing two-hour sessions for a third semester it really isn't a big deal. Of course, when I mentioned it to Gordon, about "having fun" teaching, his first question was "are you getting them to talk?" My first thought was focussed on today - and the answer would be no, not much talking. But then I thought back over the four days I have taught, and I realised that I am getting them to talk - far more than I would have thought possible when I started all this. There's a distinct difference between the two classes though - my first class is more talkative than is my second class. Tomorrow's class has more opportunties for them to talk, more chances for interactions. I hope it goes well.

So I suppose I have learned a thing or two about interactive teaching. I can't be someone other than I am, but I can do a decent job of acting. An effective, engaging teacher needs to be something of a performer. It isn't just a part of their personality. While the great ones are quirky, you can be good without needing to be great. Right now, being "better" is a good starting point. If I can be better, then eventually I can be good. My personality and my way of speaking are a challenge, a hindrance, but they are not insurmountable obstacles.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Typically Trini?

What does this mean? "Eats at the same restaurant every day"? I have never heard that as a Trinidadian thing to do. But, yeah, I do. So what? Is there something Trini about that?

Not that I would read NRO's corner, google took me there, but still...
HURRICANE ROGER [Rick Brookhiser]
Neither the Transit Workers' Union nor its leader Roger Toussaint has won many friends. The tabloids are on the warpath against them, but they are following the popular mood as much as shaping it. I'm hearing disgust in unexpected places: Ed Lover, the hip-hop radio host, was mocking Toussaint's accent. Out of the blue, my trainer called him a typical Trinnie (Trinidadian). "What do you mean by that?" I asked. "He's been here for years, but he still talks like a Trinnie; he probably eats in the same restaurant every day." (My trainer is from another island.)
Seems like New York is suffering from Hurricane Roger.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


First day of classes for the semester. Nervous and excited. Already have one problem on my plate - a student who insists on sitting in on a full section. May work out fine, someone may drop (is there a waiting list?) Shall see

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Happy New Year

Well, it's been about a month since I posted, and my traffic has slipped down to two visits a week, so I figure I might as well post something just for the sake of posting.

My job hunt seems to be going nowhere. That after spending all that time with Bob revising my cover letter and c.v. I'm still hopeful - while the pickings are a lot slimmer than they were, there's still a flood of ads on the Chronicle every Monday, and there are still ads with deadline dates scattered across February and up to March 1.

And now onto classes. The semester starts on Tuesday (Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day), and I have two sections of Intro Bot and the Appalachian field trip class. So far I have already gotten a scheduling-related email from a student (a little bit last minute, to see if you can switch classes at this stage...good thing I check my email on weekends). On one hand, I am excited for classes to start back; on the other, I am not so thrilled. I do have to put more effort into fixing what's wrong with my teaching - that's both a challenge (and thus motivating, since it gives me a chance to play at a role of being someone other than I actually am, maybe someone more interesting than I am in reality) and a bother, since I will never be good enough, and if past experience is anything to go on, I won't succeed. I suppose that while success is a good thing, the real motivation is the challenge of trying to figure out how to do it.