Confessio docentis No 28:
Lecture Notes

So, sometimes I'm pretty sure I've said ridiculously stupid things in class. I don't mean the non-sequiturs, I don't mean random innuendo—not the sorts of things that just sort of jump out when you're not really filtering—but genuinly stupid comments that you don't realize until later. Today, for instance, I was doing the symbolism of Gawain's pentangle (reading without a net, as usual) and something in the back of my brain forgot that the six-point star is not called the same thing as the five-point star, i.e. both are not the star of Solomon. It wasn't until much later that it occured to me that I could have said one brought echoes of the other--but the real critic in the back of my head says "why mention the star of David at all?"

I say this because I've been having some thoughts about teaching with notes, specifically the degree to which each lecture should be a well-researched, multi-viewpoint demonstrating presentation. That, I think, is the platonic ideal of lecture: the sort of brilliant talk given about a text that someone like the other medievalist named Lewis or Fleming or Tolkien would have given. Granted, these people had time, and, as my friend Craig is fond of pointing out, they didn't have television. I tried for that at the start of the term, but after I ran out of notes on Beowulf (i.e. after I'd run out of the things I'd cribbed from Andy Orchard and Bill Quinn), I started having to do research on a regular basis, and between that and reading the text and somehow boiling all that down into 120 minute speech every day, I just sort of fell apart.

So I reverted back to the old way, which is "read the text, make some notes, and come up with discussion questions." The latter usually devolve into rhetorical questions that I have to answer, which I don't want to answer, because I'd like to hear from them. In the end, I get nervous and zip around from topic to topic, and cover things I didn't think about until after I'd got into the classroom. It feels fine, but it also looks, on reflection, like a mess. But I'll do it again tomorrow, and probably on Friday and for the rest of the term. Perhaps eventually I'll have those well-researched lectures, but not today.

Besides, as my occasionally uncomfortable students can tell you, I move around too much to lecture. If I stood behind a podium for an hour, I'd probably explode.

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