Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First Day Of Class, In the First Person


I taught, or I should say met, my first classes of the semester today. First Day of Class is such a quirky ritual, no matter what the level of education. I remember that, as a student, from first grade (I did not attend kindergarten) through graduate school, I greeted the first day of classes with apprehension, wariness. I was very much an observer.
*
Now that I'm a professor, I really don't have the option of being an observer, per se, although of course I observe things. My main job is to try to give the students a sense of what they're getting into, what's expected of them, and what sort of professor I am (answer: quirky). Some of the students have taken classes from me before.
*
I recall how extraordinarily nervous I was on the first day of classes in my first years of teaching. --Trepidation that was way out of proportion to the situation. Those days seem to be gone, at least for the moment. Good riddance.
*
In college, one choice professors may make is whether to keep the class for the whole time on the first day. (In K-12, this isn't an option.) I usually do go the full time, and inevitably some students start to squirm, as if they preferred (and why wouldn't they?) the other alternative--get the syllabus, ask some questions, get out. I often raise the subject explicitly and say, "Well, I know you want to get out of here, but we're going to keep going." This tactic doesn't necessarily improve the response, but it might induce a grudging smile.
*
There were a couple of amusing surprises today. One student in a creative-writing class asked politely whether it would be possible for us not to read material meant to "inspire" us to write. She said she'd just rather read short stories (in this case), and to inspire herself, if need be. So I agreed immediately to avoid inspiring them whenever possible. :-) Actually, she had a specific book in mind that had been used in another class and that had not proved inspirational. Anyway, that discussion provided some amusing turns. I think we tentatively decided to try to occupy a middle ground between doing things that were "inspirational" and doing things that were completely counter-productive. --A happy medium, of which Horace would have approved.
*
Another student said that in a writing class she had once taken, the teacher had come close to prohibiting the use of the first-person point of view in writing short stories. I must say I did not see this anecdote coming, and since, for the most part, short-story writers must work with versions of either the first- or third-person, I had never imagined jettisoning one of those options. The student said she liked to use the first person because "Most people live life in the first person." What a fabulous quotation! It is one I must duly attribute to Amanda M.
*
I'm sure all sorts of psychologists, psychiatrists, philosophers, and neurologists would quibble with the claim, but that's beside the point, which is that Amanda M. has given us much to consider. Do people live life in the first person? If so, what does that mean? Do others live life in the third person? I know that many professional athletes refer to themselves in the third person when they are interviewed. How would you say you live your life? Would you even think in terms of first- or third-person or of "person" at all? --Maybe not, if you weren't a writer, film-maker, or reader of literature. Hard to say.
Post a Comment