I am the worst teacher known to humankind, yesterday proves

Ok, so well yesterday was the first day of teaching and to say I am off my game is a bit of an understatement.

Something is going on with me, and I don’t know what it is. Part of it is a depression that seems to be coming and going, related to my chronic illness. It is hard to work through depression, but it’s not like I haven’t done so before.

Part of it is becoming a full professor, and not really knowing what that job is or what I am working for at this point, even though I should by now know what the job is and what I am working for, granted that I am a full professor and the dealio on that is that you get it once you establish that lots of people think you know how to do the job well, I guess, even if you yourself don’t think that.

Part of it is being jerked around on classes, and not being jerked around on classes. If I teach the same class in the same way for too long, it can get boring for me, but constant updating takes time. Then there are new course preps, forced on me by bad decisions that other people have made. New course preps are often awful, and I’m feeling super duper out of my league teaching Urban Informatics this semester on the one hand, and a class I’ve taught for nearly 10 years on the other. The new course prep sucks up the time I should use to giving the established a spruce-up make it interesting. If I give time to that class, it takes time from getting myself together for the new prep.

Then, of course, there is the fact that USC feels like a powder keg, where some leaders are trying to get us to get our act together but meet a solid brick of wall of old men who want their status and prestige maintained, no matter what, and who run off to their pet billionaire if they don’t get their way. The thing about abusive places and people…you begin to understand them and what you can and can’t do. It’s solid ground to stand on, even if it’s mean, and even if it is wrecking you, fast or slow. But right now it feels like we are trying to stealthily move out of the apartment on an abusive boyfriend/father who could reappear at any minute and destroy the tiny dreams of selfhood we’ve been bold enough to nurture.

Yesterday, the first day of teaching, then, was a terrible mess, in both classes, but in my Urban Informatics class in particular. I have struggled and struggled with the syllabus, and finally, I decided that I was overthinking it. I decided I needed to run the class like a workshop. Just give them data, show them how to do things with the data, reflect on what we are learning with the activities, and on the way they learn how to do stuff in R and Python and–what matters most to me–they begin to understand how to learn from and communicate with data.

I tried to explain that yesterday. I showed them visualizations I’ve had my other classes do, told them you can work with visualizing data using everything from R to magic markers, showed them some of my R work and some of my hand-drawn, learning graphics. I asked them if they’d like to do that in the class, and I got blank looks.

And a group of international students came up to me at the end of class and one very politely asked–and I quote: “What are you going to teach us in this class?”

Ouch. I went back through the spiel: I want you to learn to how to think about data and measurement, its validity, and how to use data to learn about cities and communicate about cities, yada yada.

Student blinks, and asks, still very polite. “But what are you going to teach us in this class?”

I sighed. “I will teach you R and Python.”

General jubilance.

Jesus wept. Or if he didn’t, I did because I really, really am not communicating while I tell other people I would like to help teach them to communicate. In my defense, I was talking about *data*, which I am generally pretty good at, and not human being speech which I am not so great at.

What am I doing?