Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Perfection and Grace

I dropped my 11-year-old off at school today. We waited in the car for about 10 minutes until it was time for him to head into school. We tend to listen to music when we're in the car together. He's an open minded music person, so he's up for indie rock, classic rock, and other genres. This is a kid who has Return of the Mack for his walk up song during baseball games (another story for another time), point being he's been introduced to many kinds of music. Today one of my favorite all time Steely Dan songs came on during our wait, Time Out of Mind, from the fabulous album Gaucho. The song that everybody knows from that record is Hey Nineteen. Time Out of Mind knocks me out every time. For both its lyrics and the groove. And the guest appearance by Michael McDonald. Damn. My little guy seemed to enjoy his first listen to the song. 

Anyway. There's not much to this except to say it's still hard for me to believe my kids are suddenly 14 and 11. At some point I might have something to say about observing high school dynamics through the experience of my 14-year-old. He seems to be thriving. High school was okay with me, and I made some good friends. But this kid seems to be relishing it so far. When our kids were babies countless parents who were more experienced often told my wife and me IT GOES SO FAST and we heard it so many times that it annoyed me but all of those parentals were totally right. It goes even faster than they promised.

The other day, a DJ on Sirius XMU was playing Guided by Voices and made a remark about one of their songs being on the station 15 years ago. It hit me hard. I remember getting acquainted with Sirius XMU and the indie songs they played at exactly that time, just before our now high schooler was born. I remember I am a Scientist being one of the first songs I heard on the station. Where the hell did 15 years go? All I know is I'm on the brink of 50 and I'm wearing middle age, certainly not with perfection, hopefully with some grace.

Teaching in a Time of Presenting

I'm kind of obsessed with PowerPoint. That is, hyper aware of it's presence without a preference to use it. I think I used it twice in the semester that just ended. I work hard in life to not be a hater, so I want to recognize the obvious point that many instructors are skilled at using PowerPoint and can use it as a tool to teach effectively. It's not my cup of tea.

As I experience it, PowerPoint guides me to present material. I don't have much success presenting sociological ideas via the PowerPoint format. For me, the classic whiteboard technique of writing bullet points as we go through the material remains my calling card. Writing on the board helps my pacing. Using the board I feel like I'm teaching. Using the software I feel like I'm presenting. 

Somehow I'm thinking about this one day after listening to someone going through a very rough time. This person is frustrated with an annoying neighbor, and is also extremely upset due to having a sick pet. The person tried to fight back tears in relaying details about their beloved pet to me. At the end of our time together, the person remarked I was like their therapist. It reminded me of my college days as a Psychology major. I developed a style of interaction focused on listening and then offering my thoughts, when solicited. As I gained more life experience I began to better understand the art of listening, and sitting here today I see more clearly that people want to be listened to. I tend not to talk much during interactions. I suppose I've been heading in this direction for a long time. I've even heard myself say in April and May "I don't like the sound of my own voice this time of year" meaning it's the culmination of an academic year when I've had to do a lot of talking in the classroom. I've never relied on lecturing as a professor. My classes have always been discussion based. So there it is. I don't like presenting and I try to limit my own talking. Outside the classroom, I don't care to do a lot of talking and I concentrate on listening and asking questions.

I'm 20+ years into my teaching career. In the last 1/3 of my career, I suspect I'll want to talk even less than I already do when I'm teaching. I doubt I'll get more into presenting. It's a good opportunity to develop a pedagogy of critical listening.