Thursday, October 24, 2013

Classroom teaching and me--or not me

I've long known that I'm not a riveting classroom teacher. Put me in a workshop, be it general writing, memoir, fiction, whatever, and I do a good job, engaging students, sparking discussion, etc. . But straight teaching from a desk in the front of the room is a whole 'nother thing. Tonight I think I capped my classroom career with a colossal failure. I was teaching a four-session non-credit class on Why Cowboys are Our Heroes--or Are They? Essentially, what part did the work of late nineteenth-century and early-twentieth artists and writers play in creating the myth of the American West as opposed to the reality.
The class barely made--five people--and I harbored a secret hope it wouldn't make. First class I had five participants; second class--a docent-guided tour of the Remington and Russell works at the Amon Carter Museum--had three participants, though the other two claimed they went to the museum independently. Which means they missed the lecture that was the big point of the class.
The third class I had three people, although one man did email and say he'd be out of town. The other man just never showed up. But the three ladies seemed to have a good time. We discussed The Virginian, that novel that set the standard for novels, movies and TV shows to come.
Tonight I had one participant--the youngest person in the class, recently moved from Ohio to Texas. When I asked, she said emphatically she wasn't from Ohio but she had a generally eastern background. The two of us talked casually about Emerson Hough's Heart's Desire, which I would call part fantasy, part satire (although it was early--1903--to be satirizing literature about the West). We went through my notes, designed for an hour and a half class, in less than 30 minutes.
When I was so bold as to ask if the class had been of any value, she said yes. She'd read two books she never would have, and she intended to read a third--Angle of Repose--that I had mentioned. She also said she wouldn't have understood about the role of artists and writers, so maybe I got somewhere with one student. But I have the sinking feeling I bored the others.
My career in the classroom is over, kaput, finished...but with regret, because I think it would be fun to teach a short non-credit course on the late, great Elmer Kelton. Still, I'm breathing a big sigh of relief tonight.

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