The first week of never-completely-successful classes always prompts some serious, not necessarily helpful reflection. No harm in reflecting electronically, I guess.
I don’t know how many others of you do this, but when I’m introducing myself to new students as their teacher of writing and communication, I become increasingly aware of every failure to articulate. Today, for example, I advised my 2:00 class to “try to be kind of precise.” On Wednesday I rambled for over 3 minutes about the importance of language economy. Then there’s my habit of referring to all groups of people as “you guys,” a tendency much more problematic in an environment such as Georgia Tech, where females are vastly outnumbered.
So far my students seem untroubled. If they notice my ineloquence at all, I hope they find it encouraging rather than distressing: Communication teachers have trouble communicating! Neato!—as opposed to—Wow, Dr. Hoffmann’s setting a really low bar.
The first week of a composition class, like no other (with the possible exception of all the others), reminds me how hard our jobs can be (or, perhaps more [kind of] precisely, how hard we can make them). If I were to keep kicking myself for every awkward stammer or long-winded word-tangle, I wouldn’t get anything done. I know communication instructors don’t have to be perfect communicators, because, first of all, what does that even mean? Second of all, I wrote an entire dissertation on the effectiveness of inarticulate rhetoric, so I should know better than to worry so much about blundering in class. Lurching, tripping, floundering speech can be interesting, expressive and applicable.
“What your wisdoms could not discover, these two shallow fools have brought to light.”
–Much Ado About Nothing
But I still want to plan my moments of ineloquence. I’d rather pratfall than fall.
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
On a recent Radiolab podcast, Jad and Robert interviewed a graduate student researching dopamine deficiency in mice. In the middle of a long interview process at the University of California in San Francisco, during which this student talked about her research into dopamine with a slew of professors likewise researching dopamine, she had a rare reaction to a nausea medication that affected her own dopamine levels and caused her to literally lose control of her face—mid-interview! [Warning: bad analogy coming.] I can sympathize, I think, with this woman’s bizarrely coincidental ordeal: I know tons about dopamine! Ask me anything about dopamine! I’m the dopamine empress of the universe! Why is my throat closing up? Dopamine? Seriously?
I like to think I know a lot about rhetoric, but it can still sneak up on me and divest me of control, even and especially when I’m talking about how best to control it.
I mean, really—try to be kind of precise? What was I thinking, you guys?