One of the things that 11 years of full-time teaching has not helped me figure out is the mystery of classroom chemistry. As I've mentioned before, like most of my colleagues I teach a heavy load of seven sections. I've got four different courses this semester: Western Civ; Modern Europe; Women in American Society; Men and Masculinity. I've got three sections of Western Civ and two of Women in American Society.
The mystery to which I refer is this: one of my Western Civ classes, for example, is filled with students who seem tired, uninterested and virtually lifeless. The other is filled with students who laugh at my poor jokes, ask constant questions, and seem to relish being around each other. Both classes are in similar time slots, they get the same lecture, they read the same book, they take similar exams. I leave one class feeling exhausted, and the other walking on air. To a less extreme degree, the same is true with my two Women's History classes.
Classroom chemistry has little to do with student performance. At times, my most enjoyable classes were filled with C students while my quietest and most exasperatingly passive classes were filled with those who did unusually good written work.
The chemistry also seems unrelated to my own effort level. Indeed, sometimes I think I try harder with my "dead" classes, hoping against hope to inspire something beyond blank stares. With the more animated classes, I can relax and enjoy myself more thoroughly, and indeed relax quite a bit.
It also seems unrelated to the weather, the season of the year, the time of day, or whether I am wearing jeans or khakis.
Anyone have any theories about classroom chemistry?
I've taught a lot in 2004. I taught three classes in the January intersession. I taught seven in the spring, two more in the summer, and seven more this fall. That gives me 19 classes for the calendar year, which is almost as many as some of my friends in the university system teach in a decade. I love my job, I truly do -- I get positively high on being in the classroom. But I am tired, and looking forward to taking this coming winter session off. I won't be back in the classroom until February 14.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that I am addicted to teaching. When I take more than a few weeks away from the classroom, I feel restless and agitated. I often start to impose my lectures on friends and relatives, and that tends not to go over well (though I suspect Matilde the chinchilla might enjoy more lectures on the rise of the suffragists.) Some of this restlessness comes from not being able to hear the sound of my own voice, honestly! But most of it comes from not being connected to so many amazing, interesting young people. Though I may complain about the quiet class, and bemoan my workload, the truth is I am paid reasonably well to do something that in all honesty, I would do for free.