Just recently I sent an email to all of the students I’ve had since 2012. I was surprised to see that the number was in the hundreds by this point. Of that pool, a handful wrote back with some very nice things to say. Surprisingly, though, a trend emerged that I hadn’t quite expected: several, independent of one another, thanked me for being so open in the classroom. They noted how their other teachers never seemed as comfortable and as free to talk about themselves and admit their own flaws.
I guess it surprised me for a number of reasons, the first being that the word “comfortable” is one I’d never use to describe myself at any point in my life. It’s not even in my vocabulary. But second, these notes presumed that it was a conscious decision, as if I could have done it any other way.
It reminds me that I’ve heard that insecure people who are scared of letting people in tend to be the people that talk the most about themselves. Lots of people mistake it for arrogance or narcissism, but it’s really a defense mechanism: by preempting the conversation you can control it in some small way. You may also wear the you-as-conversation out before others have a chance to jump in.
That about sums it up for me, I think.
But these email compliments also overlook that teaching, at its best, is a kind of performance. In many ways my teaching is raw and overly personal; I take literally everything to heart (sometimes too much so). But at the same time, it’s not really me. It’s a version of me that I’ve created in the classroom and that I turn on each morning and turn off on my way home. I’ve often said that I’m who I truly want to be when I’m in front of a class, but I also think that’s because I’m playing the part that I’m the most comfortable slipping in and out of.
Which is all to say that this annual list, and these annual entries are public, confessional, and a bit performative, too. I honestly don’t know if they’re me at my most essential, or me dolled up expecting an audience. Maybe it’s both, or one or the other when I’m feeling more or less vulnerable. I dunno.
But it’s been fun. And I think it demonstrates, for me at least, how closely aligned writing and music are, how little space sits between fact and fiction, how privacy is a fantasy that I don’t allow myself to indulge in for at least one time each year.
And how like me I am.
Maybe in writing all of this and putting it out there you can see that you are too.
Like you, that is.