Last fall, in a boffo bit of log-rolling, I nominated a colleague for an online teaching award, and she nominated me. Mostly, we were thinking, “Excuse me? Did someone say free trip to either Oregon or Florida?” What neither of us realized at the time was that a condition of accepting the nomination was making a presentation to our peers on some aspect of our online teaching that makes us award worthy.
Bahahahahahahahaha. My first reaction was: the only thing award worthy about my online teaching is my ability to do it in my pajamas with a glass of wine in one hand. My second reaction was: the thing about a making a presentation in front of my peers is that I don’t. Do that. Because it makes me feel all barfy inside.
Interestingly, there’s something different about standing in front of a classroom of students; perhaps it’s the illusion that I’m the authority or that I’m in control of the material. Wait, here I go again. Bahahahahahahaha. The rub is that the students are willing to act like they don’t know I’m faking because they want an “A.” But with one’s peers? As Joaquin Phoenix demonstrated when he launched his rap career by falling off the stage in Las Vegas, it’s hard to fake out your fellow fakers. Personally, I know that when I’m watching another teacher give a presentation, I’m not only listening for content (if at all), I’m also looking at body language, listening to pitch of voice, wondering why they never come out from behind the desk, etc. So if I’m such a critical butthead as an audience member, I can only assume my colleagues would be similarly buttheadish when watching me.
Thus, consequently, as a result, in sum, me no wanna do it.
All this anxious thinking was already in play before I even knew that this presentation in front of my peers would also be videotaped and put on the Web, so that people unable to attend the presentations in person could still view the presentations online and vote.
As I pictured my colleagues watching me online, I could only see that this would the stuff of a new drinking game, wherein People Annoyed By Jocelyn could gather together in front of their single old, rickety computer—my enemies are always poor–and chug their Miller Genuine Drafts (or whatever other lame drink people who don’t like me imbibe) every time I stuttered, “Um, I, cough cough, er, ahem, sometimes reply to, hack-snorf, my students’ emails, which, er, is an awardish behavior.” Clearly, my enemies are also dumb and sober, as the odds of me uttering this exact sentence more than once would be slim, so they’d get maybe one chug out of the deal. But still. The whole scenario tapped into my every fear.
Except my fear of chipmunks in the kitchen. And my children dying. Oh, and Joaquin Phoenix being serious about his rapping gig.
Whoops, and leggings worn by women over 100 pounds.
Unless, of course, I wore leggings during my presentation. Then that last thing would morph from “personal fear” into “public nuisance.”
Feeling so very nervous and anxiety-ridden, I considered pulling out of the competition. That would be easy. And I’m not really a fighter by nature. I bow to Easy; I light candles for Easy; I am Easy (or so Lionel Ritchie whispered in to my ear one Sunday morning as he reached over my prone body to the nightstand and began scratching onto a cocktail napkin something that looked suspiciously like song lyrics).
Strangely, though, my deepest reaction was one of “Well, hell, girl, welcome to age 41 and your 18th year of teaching. Welcome, too, to the idea that it’s okay to do something that feels threatening and full of Landmines of Shame. What better way to slam the gates of hell on the demons of junior high for once and all?”
So I made a plan. I didn’t actually think it proved my teaching is award worthy. I mean, I’m no Mickey Rourke in THE WRESTLER. I didn’t grow out my hair or get tattoos and jump off the sides of the ring in my presentation. But I stood up there and said some stuff, completely unnerved by the presence of the camera on one side of the room and the small crop of live listeners on the other side of the room. Where should I be looking? At the camera? At the actual people? Would the camera pick up my voice since I didn’t have a mic? How would the sites I was projecting within the classroom show up when viewed online? Why was it so dark? Was that Freddy Krueger in the second row, thumb wrestling with Darth Vader? Where was I? Are you my mommy?
Despite the chaos in my brain, I talked for about twelve minutes (a minute longer than I can hold my breath) and clicked around to some Web pages before spreading my crinolines, curtseying, and diving for the door.
Most importantly, I didn’t cry or pick my nose or become caught up in a reverie with the dry patch of skin on the palm of my hand. I comported myself something like not a total adolescent.
And nobody booooed me or fell asleep or threw rotten mangos at me–and if they had, what the hell? Anybody heard of buying locally these days? Way to gut the earth, Craven Consumers of Tropical Fruits in the North Woods.
I had expected, once it was over, to be flooded with a sense of relief and adrenaline and empowerment and maybe a little bit of pride that I’d done something that scared me as much as the idea of a bat crawling into my mouth in the middle of the night to poop and then give birth.
Mostly, though, I just felt flat and done and kind of empty. It was over, and that was about it. Just over.
Over the course of the subsequent weeks, some folks viewed and voted. And maybe I don’t have so many enemies after all.
Or maybe it was the fact that there were two awards and only five finalists, and one of the finalists spent 17 minutes projecting his vacation photos to Italy and noting that they show his history students what Italy looks like when their teacher is standing in it.
Eventually, I was declared winnerish.
Indeed, as I sat at home watching Ellen one afternoon (whoops! I mean “developing curriculum”), I got a call from the VP of Technology, and he let me choose which conference I’d want to attend, and since the conference in Florida would require that I make a presentation while the conference in Oregon would require that I walk around with a folder and register at one of the vendors’ booths to win a free Iphone,
I’m going to Portland this weekend.
Groom has never been to Oregon, so we’re stuffing him onto the plane, as well, even though we’re going to have to pay extra for his Wounded Man Bits exceeding the airline’s 40 lbs and 45 inches limit.
As I step onto the plane to head to the conference, I’ll take a quiet moment to overcome the flatness of the actual presentation day and remember that
sometimes being a career whore
has unexpected benefits
like getting you closer to free cable and a good cup of coffee.