It's the end of the first week of classes at RU, and I'm teaching what may be the perfect schedule, relative to my scholarly interests: Shakespeare (comedies and romances), Bible as Literature, and a senior capstone on Milton. But scholarly interests aren't the same as scholarly expertise, and the Bible class--which I'm "borrowing," on a one-time basis, from a colleague who's actually trained in Classics and New Testament studies--is humbling me considerably.
To all appearances, the class is going perfectly well: discussion never lags and the students may be the most lively and engaged of my three classes. I'm enjoying the course and I'm fully prepared and indeed overprepared for every session (I gave them an assignment in advance of the first day, so we've already had two real class meetings). But teaching an entirely new class, on new material, dealing with genres, time periods, and cultures in which I've received no formal training--well, it makes me aware of how much I take for granted in my other classes, where I have, by now, significant confidence in my own expertise and authority.
To be sure, questions come up in every class that challenge me or that I don't know the answer to, and I probably screw up important dates or mischaracterize historical events from time to time even in classes that are solidly within my area of expertise. But I don't worry that such things will happen, or that at any moment a student might ask a question that I can't answer, thereby stripping off the veneer of my authority and revealing How Little I Truly Know.
But that's how I feel in this class, and I'm reminded that it's how I used to feel in all my classes, not so long ago. I was excited, but seriously freaked out, to teach my first Shakespeare class six and a half years ago: I knew the plays, sure, and it was my time period--but I didn't know the criticism at all! And I wasn't a drama specialist! And I didn't know anything about theatrical conventions, or play-going in England, or any of that stuff. GAAAAAH!
Until this week, though, I'd forgotten that I once felt that way about Shakespeare. Over the past seven years, I've taught seventeen Shakespeare classes. I attend the Shakespeare Association conference almost every year, I've read dozens of books on Shakespeare and Early Modern drama with my reading group, and I've even started doing some of my own work on Big Willie. I know the contemporary scholarship as well as many recent PhDs in Shakespeare, and I teach better. Sure, I'd have to really step up my game if I got asked to teach a senior capstone or M.A. seminar on Shakespeare, and I'll never get hired at a research institution as a Shakespearian, but at the 300-level, in a large-discussion format, with this particular student population? Dudes, I ain't bragging when I say I'm a fucking fantastic teacher of Shakespeare.
I'll never be as good of a teacher of biblical literature as I am of Shakespeare, and that's fine. It's not my field, I'm not going back for another degree, and RU hires specialists, not generalists; I'm lucky to have this opportunity to stretch in ways that benefit my research. But as nervous-making as it is to take on something totally new, it's also oddly nice to revisit my earlier and less confident teaching selves. It's nice, first and foremost, to have new stuff to learn and fresh pedagogical challenges to tackle--but it's also nice to be reminded of all the things I've already mastered.