I'm really glad my students enjoyed my classes -- when I think back to college, my best classes were generally the ones I enjoyed, where usually I had a fun, engaging professor who helped make the material interesting. I do want to be that kind of teacher. But at the same time -- I wonder if I taught them enough. Did I make them read enough? Did I offer enough critical theory? Did they get enough history to ground the literature? Did I grade too easy? Am I giving too many A's and B's? At the end of the semester, I don't want them to just think I'm a fun teacher -- I want them to think I'm challenging. Hard, but fair. And -- this is where my own insecurities really come into play, and where this whole 'clinical faculty' thing makes me anxious -- I wonder if I'm actually as good as the other English faculty here at UIC. I'm pretty confident with my fiction writing instruction, certainly at the undergrad level. But lit?
I did do the Ph.D. I read the lit, I studied the theory (literary theory, post-colonial theory, narrative theory -- three separate courses). I think I had a decent handle on it all in grad school, and I could keep up fine with the lit. people. But I finished my coursework in 2003, and I really am primarily a fiction writer, and it's not as if I've kept reading theory, or even general lit. crit. Oh, occasionally I'll come across something, in an issue of South Asian Studies or Catamaran or Foundation or some such. I like it fine when I do run into it. But by far, I mostly read fiction and creative nonfiction. Which is what I'm mostly supposed to be doing, I think. But it makes me feel anxious about my teaching. (Yes, dreaded imposter syndrome strikes again. Hello, old friend. Aren't I rid of you yet?)
My students talk about how tough their other English professors are, how sharp and analytical they are. I don't think they talk that way about me. Do the students think I'm smart? As smart as their other professors? Am I conveying enough information in this literature course? Which is especially tricky because I prefer a student-learning-centered approach, which is much less about me having a pile of information to try to pour into their heads, and much more about offering them materials and some basic ways of looking at the topic of the course, and then letting their own questions and interest drive the discussion / learning. I think that's generally a much more effective way to learn, plus it makes for more engaging classes, when they're all talking to each other and not just trying to regurgitate facts for me. And the topic of post-colonial literature is broad enough that there are a thousand valid approaches to take to it. But this kind of classroom learning is fuzzy to evaluate. Did we just spend an hour and a half having a rich and productive discussion that actually led to greater understanding of post-colonial literature? Or did we just ramble entertainingly and laugh a lot?
I wish I could go sit in on some of my colleagues' lit classes, just so I could be sure I was doing it right. But I think they'd find that awkward. And I'm not even sure it would help.
Argh. I'm going to be spending the next few days reading final papers and giving final grades. I mean to go on as I have been all semester -- no suddenly going extra-easy on them just because I'm worried about whether I'm rigorous enough as a lit teacher -- no suddenly going extra-hard on them either. Neither would be fair. I'll be fair with my grading, and I expect my student evaluations to be good and positive, as they normally are. But I wish I could know that I was actually doing this lit-teaching-thing well overall.
In the fall, one of my colleagues is supposed to evaluate one of my lit classes for my portfolio. I would have scheduled it this spring, but honestly, I was too freaked out to deal. I need to do it in the fall, so somehow, I will suck it up and get it done. Hopefully I'll learn something useful from it. But really, I'm hoping he just comes in, watches me teach, and then says I'm doing a terrific job, and how he had no idea I was such a great literature teacher.
That would be really nice. Somehow, I don't think that's how it's going to go down.
(Kevin said last night while we were talking that lately, I've seemed a lot less sure of myself than normal. Lots more second-guessing -- about teaching, writing, house colors, parenting, relationship stuff, etc. and so on. I think he's probably right, but I have no idea why I've been such a mess lately. Please forgive the frequent freak-outs. Hopefully they'll stop soon, and I'll go back to being my normal cheerful and sanguine self.)