More or Less Teaching

Saturday, November 5, 2011 | 2 Comment(s)

*A brief entry unrelated to the snow and ice and tree and power-line-maggedon.  Part II will be along.  But lets take a break for a second to talk about yesterday.*

Yesterday i gave my first large lecture.  I mean, i have been teaching in various capacities for years, but never to 400+ students.  This time it was 400+ students (of a social psychology class). 

And am i crazy to think that this is kinda a big deal.  I mean, on some level, my first "snap-shot" of social psychology was in a similar lecture environment back in undergraduate.  The professor of that class, who was a mentor then--and still is today, had a good deal of influence in my decision to pursue this field as a psychologist.  He brought it to life.  He explained how these ideas he was teaching about formed the underpinnings of why people say and do the things they say and do.  And he was right.

And now.  here i am.  Being that guy.  Boom

I'm not used to teaching that many people.  I am used to 10-50 students.  You get a feel for their mood.  their personalities.  I work the room.  effective teaching for me usually leans toward overly-intelligent comedy.  But 450 people, they are a group.  They have a group personality.  and it takes awhile to gauge.  and the class in only 50 min.  So it was a little daunting. 

I started off a bit shaky.  i forgot to show a video (i remembered and showed it at the end of class).  I was pacing a bit fast and semi-stumbled through the first two slides.  And then slowly.  Gradually.  I eased into it.  Found my narrative voice.  Found the story.  And we settled in. 

Interestingly, one of the subjects we touched on in this class was the media/public portrayal of homosexuals, and how that affects our behavior, including stereotyping and prejudice.  I thought back about a year when i was visiting a relative in college.  While we were hanging in his frat, we got to talking about some topic, let's say sports, and he remarked, "oh, they're so gay."

"Excuse me?" i said.  "oh, not gay gay, not like that, just like, you know dumb, stupid.  It's just slang."
"it's bad slang" "its slang i don't want to hear coming out of your mouth" "ill slang you right in the face if you say that slang again."  Some version of all of these statements were said.  But the truth was, we were both right.  He was right that using gay as synonymous with stupid is a ubiquitous part of college culture.  And I was right in that using gay in that way is both offensive and detrimental.

this is what i was thinking about when we began covering the topic in class yesterday.  And then i remembered something, holy shit.  im the teacher.  im responsible for teaching them ABOUT this.  And so i did. 

I'm not sure how many points i actually drove home in yesterday's class.  But i do know that they were silent during this particular message.  All of these students who are starting to grasp these hidden prejudices and implicit attitudes.  And then i tell them that using the term gay to mean stupid or lame is the exact kind of hidden behavior that reinforces these prejudicial attitudes.  And then, even though they may have thought it or heard this said in the past, when its said in the context of all other similar examples of racial and sexist prejudices that are no longer considered acceptable at all . . . they get it.  They at least get it enough to, for that moment, consider their own behavior.  Consider what it means when they have said it in the past.

And that, for a teacher, is the best case scenario.

I feel compelled to add that when rereading this post, it sound like i was much like the inspirational teacher in Stand and Deliver, or at least of that ilk.  I was not.  I will not pretend that this was a life changing lecture.  Except for me.  I was my first, and that's memorable.  But it was also my first, in that there was a lot of room for improvement.  lots.  Like next time im going to staple my notes so they don't end up scattered and unorderable within the first 15 minutes of the lecture.  I'm also going to make an effort to breathe more.  Cause oxygens my friend.

All im arguing for is a moment of teaching.  A moment of trying to be the change you want to see in the world.  A moment of putting my money where my gay mouth is.


  1. Kudos to you. Written as a true teacher,
    with understanding, humility, and the
    underlying joy of wanting to make a difference
    one small step at a time. Very happy for
    you and very proud.

  2. @mom. I'm lucky to have a proud mom.