Thursday, February 10, 2011

Teaching the willing

Blog Pictures 079
The homemade orange liqueur in action
So, after my maligning of my over-worked seniors, I went to give a talk to a class of 6th graders about archaeology.  And it was pure, unadulterated awesome.  The wife of a friend in the history department I'm in teaches social studies and science at the middle school one town over, and they're doing a unit on Egypt.  I don't work on Egypt, but I do a lot of my research with archaeological collections, so it's not that big of a jump.

They were interested, excited, and asked a lot of good questions.  I used to work at a museum doing school group presentations and workshop days, and I love working with middle school groups.  They're at just the right age to know a little about everything without being so old that they can't be excited in front of everyone.  I decided to go to grad school rather than get a teaching certificate in part because I felt like I found that excitement again in college, after hating high school, and in part because I didn't want to teach to the test or have my curriculum dictated by evolution denialists.  And college students are excited.  Sometimes.  It's just a lot harder to get them excited about the rhetorical differences between socialism and marxism than it is to get sixth graders excited about gold rings and mummies and playing detective.

Blog Pictures 077It was also odd to have such a large age difference: I came into grad school straight out of college, so especially when I'm teaching seniors, I'm sometimes less than three years older than the students I'm teaching. Really, age shouldn't have much to do with it, and I try to present myself older than I am, but even the women in my department who are much older than me or the undergraduates are treated as if we were much younger than our male peers by the students.  Academic drag helps, but there's only so far some severe glasses and a blazer can take you.

Once, when I was TAing a US history course and we were getting ready to study the French and Indian War, the professor told the other TA and I: "Really emphasize to the students how young George Washingon was when he started the war."  (At age 20, Washington unintentionally triggered a global war by letting some French soldiers he was negotiating with in the backwoods get killed under his command).  "Really emphasize to them how young and stupid he was, only their ages and in command of all those people!"  I think I was 22 at the time, and in charge of a room of 18-20 year olds.  It didn't help much that the prof I was TAing for obviously didn't think much of twenty-somethings.

I'm sure I wouldn't be romanticizing sixth graders this way if I taught them every day, but it was just so nice to go into a class room where they were excited to talk about something, where they were so excited that we ran out of time, and where I didn't have to position myself defensively.  I felt like I had so much energy when I was talking to them that I could just keep going for hours.  When I get in a bad section, I can't wait for it to get over either and I look at the time as much as my students do.  If I could figure out how to bottle that energy and excitement and take it with me, I'd be set.

What I do have in bottles is the orange liqueur, which we made sidecars with tonight.  1oz orange liqueur, 1oz brandy, and a half oz of lemon juice per person shaken over ice and it's just heaven.  Super simple, and the taste of the clementines really comes through.

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