I received a hearty laugh from all of my students this morning when I was lecturing about verbal versus nonverbal communication.  I said, “For example, a type of nonverbal communication I’m receiving right now is your body posture.  A different message is being sent from those of you who are sitting up straight, diligently taking notes and nodding at me…” I said as I mimed this, “versus when some of you slouch down in your chairs,” and I slouched, “and stare up at the ceiling, or glare at me, or I see your eyes glaze over,” and I paused, “or…I see your mouth hanging open, drool dripping down your face as you retreat to your dreams and let my lecturing become a distant buzz.”  They all laughed and giggled.  

It is interesting being a lecturer.  I can only really speak of my experiences up in front of the college classroom.  I’ve done some grade school classroom lessons, but the past two years I’ve spent just in front of college students.  Some are wide awake, nodding and smiling and me, some are asleep, some are half-asleep in frog pajamas, some whisper to their neighbors or text while I’m talking, others take no notes but listen intently, the list goes on.  It really is a different vibe depending on who is in the class and how interesting the lecture is at any one moment.  I’ve been there before: in the classroom where the instructor could give a shit what they are actually saying or how they are connecting with the students.  I’ve even had professors bring their book to class and READ FROM THE BOOK.  Like, LINE BY LINE.  I’ve had the instructors that insist on forging on through the material when it is clear the class is completely lost.  I’ve had really wonderful instructors that make you feel as if you are having a one-on-one conversation with them, when really you are stuck in a sweaty lecture hall with 200 other freshmen.  So, I try and combat all the problems that I saw happening when I was facing the instructor instead of being the instructor.

I actively approach the classroom as if it is a stage.  I am a performer, and they are my audience.  It may be through the use of humor, of actual body maneuvers through miming, it may be through the use of YouTube videos or DVD clips, or funny graphics, or amusing stories; whatever it takes to connect with students that are in the audience.  I ask for contributions many times in the classroom, which I find really helps students focus on what their peers are saying, and encourages them to be more involved in the classroom discussion.

It’s not all fun and games though.  Despite my best intentions, I inevitably get a few haters every semester: the people that actively look at me while leaning over to their neighbor to talk while I’m lecturing, those that text rampantly even though I’m trying to communicate with them, those who glare at me because I gave a bad example or didn’t explain something clearly.  There are those who mouth “Bitch” at me in the middle of class, like this semester for whatever reason, or those who ignore all attempts for me to help them, and give me poor performance evaluations at the end of the semester.  My personal favorite is a student who feels I have created a non-supportive environment for minorities (gender, race, ethnicity…) and tells me so on my performance evaluations, even though more than 100 other students don’t feel the same way.

Instructing can be a really strenuous, emotionally draining process sometimes.  I feel like I give so much of myself to the class, only to have bored stares and glazed eyes staring back at me.

But then there are the moments that make me treasure being an instructor: the one-on-one that happens in my office, when a student really connects with an idea, or, after class, when a student discovers that I’m actually a really nice person when they come and talk to me.  It is the moment that happens in class too:  the instance when I really nail a joke, or make them smile, or have them give me a really great example and I feel really connected with my audience.  It’s when I put myself as a stage performer at the mercy of my audience, and I slouch down and mime a sleeping student, and I feel we are all on the same wavelength, and they know what I’m thinking and I know what they are thinking, and time doesn’t merely stand still, it whizzes by and I’m amazed to find that I have just spent 50 minutes with total strangers and yet, we feel like we know each other.

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