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.