Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why Are You Teaching After Brain Surgery?

This is the question that I get asked more than any other. I’ve thought about the answer a lot, and the answer remains fairly simple: I really like the teaching and it lets me feel like myself again. My feeling of responsibility to these unusual classes is another element, but I’ve always had an overgrown sense of responsibility—even to the point that it’s gotten me into trouble more than once—and I know how to get over that when needed.

This has been an isolating journey; the blog and the responses I get to it reduce that isolation, but the contrast between the number of people in my life before diagnosis and after is sharp. Teaching my classes gives me concentrated doses of interactions with people, and as both groups this semester have remarkably cheerful and pleasant personalities, it’s always nice to see them.

It’s not particularly fashionable to like teaching as much as I do and maybe that’s attributable to the fact that I haven’t been doing it year in and year out for decades, only for most of one. Maybe if I’d been at it longer, I’d be really tired of it and glad to drop it. On the other hand, the experience is never the same because the kinds of topics I teach lead to fascinating variability in each topic and simulation. I’ve had experiences this semester in each class where negotiations I’ve assigned scores of times developed in ways I’d never seen before. Law students are smart, hard-working and interesting people; the freshmen I teach are smart, motivated and enjoyable to see where they are in their lives. So the experience of teaching my classes is stimulating, challenging and fun. Each provides me with a fairly safe place to figure out if I was/am still “me” the more so because I’ve had such stellar people with me backing me up and providing a safety net if I turned out not to be up to the task either physically or cognitively.

That’s why I’m teaching my classes, and so soon after brain surgery. Because it lets me experience a little control and provides a lot of reassurance that I’m still in here. Kearney points out this morning that all of this could end up making me a better teacher, especially the part where I’m experiencing being a slow learner. She points out that the best teachers and coaches are ones who understand what it is like not to be good at something initially and can help others move from that to strength. That’s a positive framing, and I’ll go with it. My slowness at getting to know and love being a tortoise is helping me be a better teacher. Selfless of me, isn’t it?

1 comment:

  1. "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle

    So here is my explanation for why you were in the classroom mere days after surgery. You simply are not ever NOT a teacher. I've seen you in action, remember, seen your great mastery of the duet played between those who teach and those who learn, and witnessed your deep affection for your students and your fretfulness over whether you've reached them, whether they've "gotten it."

    And I don't mean just the law students and the freshmen in enrolled classes--I'm talking about the great flow of humanity that you touch--the attendees at leadership seminars, the lawyers at ethics CLE sessions, the friends who come to you for advice and solace--is there anyone who has ever fallen within your orbit that HASN'T learned something deep and meaningful from you?

    No mere brain tumor could ever stop such a force of nature.