So yay, right? Except that I really was not bringing it to my classes this past semester. I was relying much too much on old lesson plans, doing my reading at the very last minute, and feeling continually on the verge of having my ill-preparation and inattention come crashing down on my head.
Now okay: I understand that students don't always see this lack of preparation, and I actively enjoyed two of my three classes--but, mysteriously, it's the third class, a class that pissed me off on a near-daily basis, that gave me my best scores. It was an upper-division Renaissance class that I'd designed from scratch to teach in the fall of 2008--and that incarnation of the class was amazing. But I decided to re-teach the class this past fall, and this time around it was. . . not so good. Really not so good. The students weren't participatory or seemingly engaged by the material; their written work was mediocre; and I struggled continually not to lose my temper with them. And yet my scores were phenomenal: fully as good and in some categories better than those for the (in every way superior) class that I taught last year.
So what accounts for these increasingly positive scores? I don't have a good explanation, but here are a few theories:
1. I've been at RU long enough that I now have a reputation for toughness--which means students are less surprised by the grades they receive (and/or, since I don't think I really am that tough, they're excessively gratified when they do well).
2. I've genuinely become a better teacher--which includes getting better at addressing (and anticipating the interests and possible problems of) RU's student population.
3. I've figured out a shtick that goes over well.
I suspect it's a combination of all three, and maybe some other factors I'm not aware of. But I worry that it's too much #3.
Some of my classes--certainly not the majority, but some of them--turn into crazy high-energy love-fests. Often, this is my Shakespeare class (and I gotta say: I teach a fucking great Shakespeare class). Everyone who's taught has had classes like this, where the students are in love with you and you with them, and everyone's riffing off everyone else, but doing serious work at the same time--and where almost nothing you do seems to flop, because the room is so decisively on your side.
As I say, this isn't the norm for me, but a milder or occasional version of it probably is: even with classes that gel less well together, or that have some obviously weak links, or that frustrate me routinely, I've learned to coax and cajole and turn up various dials on my teaching persona to get my students to haul themselves through a decent passage or character analysis or map out bigger patterns or whatever.
And it's not that I'm not proud of that. I do think that personality goes a long way, and that manifesting the kind of enthusiasm and nerdy, intense engagement with the material that students can connect with is its own kind of pedagogical skill (and for me at least partly a learned skill). But I worry about coasting along on whatever marginal classroom charisma I've constructed for myself, and becoming little more than a shtick--or not being able to adapt, creatively, to a different classroom dynamic or a different student population.
I guess the only solution is to get my ass in gear and DO SOME REAL CLASS PREP this semester--but I thought I'd check in with you-all first. What's been your experience with classroom theatre or charisma--or with the relationship between them and your level of preparation, or your evals?