Today I was fortunate enough to have the misfortune of sitting-in on my coworker’s class.

Fortunate because observing her would lead me to new understandings about teaching, I presumed. I began to understand that these classes can be conducted in less structured ways than I had originally envisioned. She talked with her students. She engaged them. There was no agenda, lesson plan, homework, or even a page from the textbook that she referenced. There was just a topic and her students were interested in that topic. They spent the hour and half talking about travel. It was an escapist’s fantasy class. Instead of focusing on that week’s test, the teacher led their imaginations on a journey around the world. If only for a short time the stress of exam week was alleviated.

Fortunate because observing my coworker would allow me to see how she manages her students. Her students are adults. She didn’t need to manage them, per se. They sat patiently. Their curiosity piqued by her stories. How did she do this? Her adventures lent themselves to her students imaginations. Her students tried these adventures on for themselves. They also offered adventures in exchange, some of which were not well received — eating silkworm larvae. She gagged at the thought.

Fortunate because the onus of leading the class would not fall on me. I hadn’t captivated my students attention the way she had. How brutal the thought is of standing before a captive audience who isn’t interested in my stories or even me. How brutal the experience. My students hadn’t felt compelled to attend my class. In fact, they decided their other classes were more important. It’s midterm’s week and I don’t blame them. Not many of them are my regular students so attending this special class would not lead to any insight into how well to pass my midterm as it did for some of her students. I don’t take their absence personal.

Unfortunate because during this experience I began to understand how wide the gap between me and my students is. I saw how she captured their imaginations with her stories. Unfortunate because I felt the gap widen. Unfortunate because at the end of the class I hadn’t made progress in the way of shortening that gap. I had done nothing, actually. I sat and listened to her stories about traveling and eating in far off places to which I have yet to go. I watched as her students reveled in hearing her stories. She has traveled to 33 countries over the twenty-odd years of her life.  I’m thirty-five and I’ve been to 3 countries — Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. Put another way, I’ve been to three countries and touched two continents. Perhaps that sounds more impressive. I watched as her stories filled her students with delight, hope, and envy. Hope that such pleasurable experiences may be waiting for them in far off lands. Delight that she had pleasurable experiences. Envy that she’d had those experiences and not them.

I felt undeserving sitting in that classroom next to her, but I also realized that that feeling is unwarranted.  As I later learned she had those opportunities to travel largely because of her free ride through college. Of course. It’s less impressive when you also account for the fact that traveling within Europe is somewhat less expensive than the expense one shells out to get there. Furthermore, once in Europe or even Asia, for that matter, it is possible to travel to many countries cheaply. The reason I am writing is because I realized that without those adventures I would have to search for more interesting stories to lead my students imaginations. Fortunately, I don’t have to convince my students that I deserve to be here. The hard work of getting here is over. Now the challenge of finding another way to captivate their imaginations is afoot.

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