A moment to top all teaching moments

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Today, the most bizarre thing happened to me in class that I think has ever happened since I began teaching. Which granted is not that long, compared to my colleagues and my own instructors, but still a milestone that I’d like to discuss… mostly for its weirdness.

Right before class officially started today, one of my students (who is openly gay) began inviting his fellow classmates to NC State’s next LGBTQ events, a drag parade at the nightclub Flex here in Raleigh. After canvassing the class on an individual basis, he turned to me and yelled, “Ms. Kittle Autry! You have to come to the drag parade at Flex. YOU inspired MY costume!” . . . Awkward. So was the silence in our class. He quickly filled in with, “In the way that, you know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” The laughter in the classroom was uncomfortable, as was I, and I quickly said, “Well, I think I’ll take that as a compliment,” and launched into taking attendance. I did not – and still do not – take offense to the student’s comment. I’m flattered that he has considered me in trying to find a fun costume for an event that he is passionate about.

I hope now that I did not come across as “blowing off” the student’s interest. Although I’ve never had a student ask before, if one of them invited me to attend a sporting event, theater production, drag parade, whatever – I would seriously consider going to support the student and show my genuine interest as his or her teacher. And quite honestly, I’m more than mildly curious about this student’s interpretation of me (as a teacher) for various reasons. At this point I’m undecided: after looking at Flex’s website, the show doesn’t start until 12:30 Thursday night (aka Friday morning)! What party starts that late? I’m feeling older and older than my students all the time. But what matters is that I would like to support this student, who is actively pursuing his interests on campus.

My reflections on this incident have me thinking that – no matter how much TA training and faculty development workshops you attend, how many books you read, or how many other teachers you talk to – you will always encounter situations that you are utterly unprepared to deal with. People are vibrant, unpredictable, and full of new things you don’t know. That’s what makes life fascinating but also what makes teaching a roller-coaster ride. In one sense, it’s the challenge that draws you to teaching – no semester is ever the same! – but it’s the challenge that causes us to snark on Twitter or on other Internet fora. Maybe the more I teach, the faster I’ll be on my feet to think of what to say in that kind of situation.

So now I’m curious – what situations have you had teaching that render you helpless/speechless/unsure of how to deal? (You know, so in case it ever happens to me… I’ll have some knowledge upon which to draw!) Do share. And if I go to Flex tomorrow night – I’ll be sure to update you on that as well.

A highly productive week

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This week is “Spring Break” at NCSU. Being in my mid-twenties, I’m not so keen anymore on announcing to people, “I’m on Spring Break!!” Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for a week-long hiatus from class. It’s just that the concept of Spring Break is misleading for people when you’re a PhD student. So, from now on, I’m calling it my “highly productive week.” Because contrary to popular belief, I’m not spending the week laying on the beach – I’m whipping up some work and spending just as much time, if not more, doing all the things that just don’t get done when I’m in class, teaching, and generally prepping for my weekly deadlines.

The first task I tackled this week was data collection for a joint project that I’m doing with a colleague of mine, Ashley R. Kelly. We are examining rhetorical markers of controversy in public discourse surrounding the Duke Energy-Progress Energy merger that’s happening here in North Carolina. The new mega-power company will be the largest energy provider in the United States (in terms of customers). Complicating matters is the company’s desire to change North Carolina law in order to bypass public hearings about the proposed construction of nuclear reactors. We’ve just completed the data collection stage, so I’ll post more information once we’re further into the project.

I’ve also had the opportunity this week to develop my submissions for NCA 2011. I’ve submitted a revised seminar paper that I wrote last semester and am also finalizing a paper session proposal that Ashley and I will do together along with a PhD student from UGA who is also looking at rhetoric of science and nuclear energy issues. Hopefully, I’ll have to slots in the program for NCA 2011 and will be able to enjoy four great days in New Orleans this November!

Also on the agenda this week is reading Sherry Turkle’s newest book, Alone Together. I haven’t finished it yet, so I won’t post a full review until later, but in the meantime, I have a few ideas as I’ve been reading. It’s a little unsettling to read about how technology impacts our human relationships while at the same time, I’m taking notes on my Macbook, texting my husband, and checking Twitter. So automatically, I see the need for her research to better understand how this impacts our interactions with each other and our increased use of and reliance upon technology for everyday activities, including socializing.

Finally, I’m also working on my latest web project – a final project for my course in Writing Program Administration. It is a labor of love that I am really enjoying working on, but it will be a little while before it will go live and I will be able to share it with you. My goal right now is just to meet the deadline for the last day of class!

I realize I’ve falling a bit off of the blogging bandwagon and will hopefully get back on track now to my regular one post per week – so long as I have something important to say!