Today, I gave a truly great lecture on the first half of the Civil War. At least, I thought it was pretty great. But judging from the students’ faces (oh, how I wish I could have a camera catching each look of confusion!), the lecture wasn’t anything special. Same sighs of boredom, same crossed-arms-instead-of-note-taking (what the hell is that about? Do you know this already? Am I boring you? Then get the fuck out!), same packing up early (seriously: there’s nothing that pisses me off more). Grr.
But the real conundrum is this: I really enjoyed prepping the lecture. I made a potentially fateful decision: I put lecture prep before “my work” (reading for prelims, finishing minor field, etc.). Usually, I try to spend my morning hours working on PhD stuff, then save class prep for the evening, when my brain is admittedly a little fuzzier and when I’m more likely to phone it in. But not this time. I had just read McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom and decided that I wanted to do that. So I threw myself into the lecture, spending at least 6 hours on the damn thing. And I thought it was cracking good: battle stories, broad historical themes, portraits of leaders, the full meal deal.
And what’s the payoff? Glass eyes and expressionless faces. I’m not sure what I was expecting: applause? Students literally on the edge of their seats? Stupid. Of course, I now know way more about the Civil War than before I wrote the lecture, and that’s not nothing. But it’s an important lesson, I suppose: students in a lecture course might not be the best source for gratification for a scholar’s hard work.