I got my ass handed to me in seminar yesterday. Just a regular trouncing. I said one thing, then contradicted myself 30 minutes later, and the prof called me on it. Damn, that hurt…especially because I didn’t even mean to contradict myself. It was an honest-to-God I-think-I-get-it-oh-wait-what-the-hell-just-happened moment. And for the rest of the day, I–once again–questioned whether I have any business in this business.
But this time I had to turn around and run two sections. I had to shift from I’m-an-idiot to I-know-what-I’m-talking about mode within hours. And it was rough; those were probably some of the worst sections I’ve ever led. For whatever reason, the seminar ass-handing left me in doubt not only of my ability as an intellectual, but also as a teacher (which, of course, are not always one and the same). This isn’t to say that I usually give off the impression that I’m an expert source of wisdom in seminar; indeed, I usually start off the term by explaining that I have as much to learn as the students do. But there is a certain degree of confidence, of I-don’t-know-the-answer-but-I-do-know-we-can-find-out, that is necessary to running a section well. Otherwise, the students will (a) run all over you and (b) give up believing, if they ever did, that the section is worth their time. And though I didn’t get run over today–I’m something of a hard-ass–I certainly felt like I wasted their time. And that stinks.
I wonder if this isn’t something that grad student development could take into consideration: the constant oscillation between knowing-that-you-don’t-know and having enough confidence to proceed. Surely professors must deal with this; it might be nice to hear how they handle it. But the more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that professors are, like most everyone, extremely insecure and quite unwilling to show a chink in their armor.
Also: sorry about the use of these-sorts-of-hyphen-connected-phrases. I’ll stop doing that.