Teaching Anxiety

Teaching Anxiety September 4, 2019

I’ve not experienced the level of anxiety I have felt as the start of this semester drew near for quite some time. I’ve been telling people that I think I probably teach better when I have that anxiety that leads me to overthink, overprepare, and often find myself unable to sleep or waking up unduly early because of how anxious I am, as I continually think about what I am teaching.

In case you haven’t heard, I’m teaching a class on China and Islam that I have not taught since 2006. If you look at the web page I created for the course, back when it was part of our previous core curriculum, it looks like you might expect a website to look from that long ago if it hasn’t been updated since then. That was the year I joined Facebook, if I recall correctly. I still had to show documentaries by bringing a VHS player into the classroom, although I believe we had started trying to transfer those grainy collections of clips onto DVDs. I still have them in digital format. Today I can tell students to watch documentaries in better quality online. I also used to have students clip articles from a newspaper and paste them into a notebook with commentary. A news journal looks very different today, and so I’ve rethought completely what I am getting students to do and when and how I expect them to do it. Students will be contributing to a blog on which they will reflect on and engage with news about and from China and the Middle East, as well as about China and the Middle East. I am so excited to see that our library is trying out PressReader at just this time, as it seems to be a convenient way of accessing news from other parts of the world (as well as from closer to home).

I also moved offices since I last taught the course, and guess which books I thought I could surely afford to get rid of at this point in my life and career, since I hadn’t taught the course they were associated with in more than a decade? The lesson to book hoarders is clear: don’t make the mistake I did! Hang on tightly to them, as you never know when you might need them again! Actually, with the change in technology, combined with library and other resources, there is probably nothing I need that I cannot get hold of, in fact most likely more easily than looking for it on my shelf if I had kept all those books.

It is really rewarding to go back and teach a class one hasn’t taught for a long time after such a long break, in an area that was outside of one’s normal expertise to begin with. It brings back the terror that provides adrenaline and impetus to prepare. I confess that I started semesters and walked into class comfortable and overconfident. And I did know what I needed to and was certainly prepared. But it wasn’t as vibrant and lively as when I walk into class concerned about possible gaps in my knowledge, or that an untested class discussion topic might go horribly wrong.

Of related interest:

The Chronicle offered a helpful guide to tech choices related to education.

YouTube and the Hong Kong protests

Politicization of science in the U.S. and China

Impact of China’s new two-child policy

Where Chinese students in America get their news

That latter article is fascinating in many ways, including how media outlets popular in China navigate censorship enforced by algorithms, and how they pander to what their audience wants. Definitely worth reading. Here’s a snippet:

Lin said that College Daily’s stories accurately reflect its readership’s disillusionment with America, particularly when they compare the U.S. with China. “Especially after the 2016 election, our readers see how divided a society America is,” he said. “They see the chaos that’s brought about by its freedom. At the same time, China appears to be orderly, positive, and continuously advancing. This changes how an overseas Chinese student feels. It means that if we write things that are critical of China, or if we’re singing the praises of America, we will be less popular with our readers.” Following the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in August, College Daily ran an explainer on why many Americans own semi-automatic guns, which said, “The reason is that in America, the police do not have the duty to protect you when your life is in danger.”

Also relevant, but connected to this semester’s other unit and to my other course for this part of the core that I will teach next semester:

Imran Khan: The World Can’t Ignore Kashmir

Kashmir and Hindu Nationalism

Islamic Empires – 15 cities that define a civilisation

Finally, don’t miss the account of a professor who experienced anxiety because of a course’s subject matter.

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