|While my co-bloggers are already fully embroiled in teaching, for us over here in Olde Europe, there are still a couple of weeks to go. Locked up here in Castle Bardolph, on the ancient family estate, tapping this out in the east turret as the rain lashes the window and my strange dwarfish butler mixes me another vodka posset, I’m trying all I can to deny this imminent encroachment: in fact, I’m about to dash off for a week on the beaches of the Ancient World with Mistress Quickly. But before I do, I wanted to mention one thing.|
Dreams. I know students are almost upon me because I’ve been having various teaching-anxiety nightmares: the last one found me in a sprawling farmhouse, frantically searching for my seminar notes for a class due to begin in three minutes, on a subject I had never heard of, which when I tried to pronounce came out as a kind of squawking noise.
Which got me thinking about the things we fear may happen in class. By way of homage to our great list-makers (Burton, Swift, Letterman, Hornby), here are ten that turn my stomach into a nest of lizards.
1. Falling off my chair.
What’s that about? It may go back to the very first lecture I gave: I had a mentor – a crook-backed, wise old sage of the sort not uncommon here in Old Prussia – who came to observe my teaching, but half-way through fell off his chair, onto the floor, I think at a key moment of my argument, where he wriggled like an upturned woodlouse. Despite this I find myself playing with fire: tipping back my chair, precariously, particularly in those entirely silent seminars that seem to be a speciality of my Olde Universitie.
2. Being late. Or, even worse, being early. Or, most hideously of all, being on time. It’s really a no-win situation. Beginning is just simply awful.
3. Realising ten minutes into the lecture I am discussing the wrong book. A friend of mine gave a demonstration lecture to hundreds of university applicants on redemption and faith in Enduring Love, only to be told by a weary teacher twenty minutes in that they’d all prepared Atonement.
4. Colleagues walking past and hearing my teaching voice.
I can’t stand this, and would ideally like to lecture in a sealed box 500 feet beneath the earth’s surface.
5. Things hanging from my nose.
6. Revealing my ignorance.
As when students ask me to translate Biblical Syriac. Or press me on definitions. Which way round is readerly and writerly, etc.
7. Forgetting. Anything: plots, character names, student names. I always blank two student names out of fifteen, and in future will call everyone Bussy.
8. Mature students saying I am younger than their children. Invoking their life experiences. Patting my head. Bringing me biscuits. What am I – a spaniel?
9. Clothing issues.
A whole range of potentials here. Here in Ye Olde Worlde we traditionally teach in full gown and mortar board, and I’m in fact not averse to donning full chain mail and vizard for a third-year tutorial. But there’s so much scope for horror. Things undone. Hanging off. Attachments unfurling louchely from behind. Wearing the same clothes as a student. Wearing no clothes.
10. Running out of materials seven minutes into a two-hour seminar.
Or six minutes. Or two. I’ve not actually had this happen but it’s a prospect so terrifying that it never recedes as a potential. I usually have about a week’s worth of back up stuff. Some woodcuts. A lute, stored quietly behind the door. And then of course there is always the ultimate fall back: close-reading of paragraph one.
So: there are my horrors. Anything I’ve missed out?