Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On Finding Our Voice

We may squeak when we mean to roar. No, first year GTAs are not of mice, we are of the genus panthera leo, also known as the lion, ferociously testing out our roar, or more accurately, timidly testing out our roar while clad in an armor of bravado.
And if that’s the way we do it for the first few weeks, it’s okay, because soon our faux-poise solidifies, and materializes into the real deal. And then one day, a few weeks in, we find that, yeah, we’re teaching, but more than that, we’re teachers, and even more than that, we’re teachers with something to say. Yeah.
So what do we do with this roar we’ve discovered? We’re molding young impressionable minds, we don’t want to be sliding down some weird slippery slope with this powerful roar of ours. Because opening up to us is this dawning realization that yes, we are the masters of our domain, and yes, we have this captive audience, a captive audience, who have to sit there. So as we realize the power of that roar, we must also know that, à la Superman, it must only be used for good.
There’s no doubt about it, teachers, like the rest of the population, come with a wide range of opinions and biases, loves and hates and weird-ass convictions. We are all passionate about something or another. Some of us even have wacky off-the-wall idiosyncrasies that we perhaps might feel free to espouse to those glowing, fresh-faced, sometimes malleable young minds in front of us. (Yes, there are one or two in the bunch.) So how much sharing can we freely do before it starts getting weird? 
It’s definitely a balancing act. When I think back on the favorite teachers I’ve had over the years, the ones that shared bits and pieces about themselves made it easier to connect with them, while the selective nature of their bits and pieces made me wish I knew just a little bit more. With the over-sharers, on the other hand, it seemed like the entire class knew just a tad more than we all really wanted to know. It’s something I’m still deciphering – how much is too much? (In fact, I just had to edit this paragraph to remove stories about two professors – one a bits-and-piecer, and one an over-sharer. So, okay, I tend towards the over-sharing, but not so much that my students are rolling their eyes. Hopefully.)
In short, yes, it will get weird if you tell your students about the time you saw a UFO when you were nine and although the rest of your family saw it too, they all walked away and pretended that nothing happened as if they’d somehow all been hypnotized. Or share your opinion about how the NRA is a blight akin to the Bubonic Plague and need to be kneecapped before they wipe out 30-60% of the population (citation needed). Or divulge your theory that cats are evil and out for world domination and are just lulling us into a false sense of security with their carefully orchestrated and deceptively cute lolcat memes.
Yes, it’s a balancing act, and we all violate our own self-imposed code at some point or another, but then we can go home, eat some gummi bears and watch Jon Stewart, and start afresh the next class period. (See what I mean about over-sharing?)

Lisa Chiles is a first year MFA Fiction candidate whose life has been so consumed by GTAing that she regularly has visions of ungraded papers chasing her with bayonets. She lives with the handsomest dog in the universe and will fight anyone who says otherwise. 

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