The anatomy of repetition

September 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

After several semesters teaching multiple sections of the same course simultaneously, I have come to expect certain truths about repeating lectures.

1. One class will inevitably misunderstand an element of lecture that the other class seems to innately “get.”
2. One class will find great disgust with a section of text whereas the other class finds the same section appealing.
3. One class will have greater energy levels while the other class slumps and sleeps.
4. I will ultimately question what changed in myself to make the same lecture so unbearable for one class yet exciting for the other.

These past few weeks, I taught, for the first time, The Ramayana. In addition to feeling like I do not fully grasp the true implications or beliefs or characteristics or whatever of Hinduism, I still believe that I grasp it a bit more fully than some of my students. (I’m being purposefully conservative for the sake of avoiding generalization–I actually believe I understand the concept of Hinduism better than 99% of my students…allowing for a possible “closeted” Hindu student.) My confidence in this borders on arrogance, particularly because I am capable of realizing how very little I actually understand about this complex religious system.


Today’s lecture was the final one for The Ramayana. In my first class, I walk in to a class of highly energetic students who are excited to talk about the last few sections we read. We had a beautiful discussion about a beautiful text. We discussed destiny, emotions, and (to some extent) religion. I felt we wrapped up The Ramayana as well as anyone could have hoped, especially given the massive sections I had to excise from our assigned readings. (With a great deal of care and regret, I should add.)

In my second class, it was a completely different story. First of all, that statement is generally true of my second class anyway. I have a couple of students who are a bit…how shall I say it?…defensive? combative? presumptive? Something along those lines, although none of those words fit perfectly. My first class takes place right at lunchtime while my second class takes place right after lunchtime. I suppose that could account for the complete lack of energy I experience when I first walk in on any given day. Today, however, my students were really quite dead, I mean truly flat-lined, about this epic battle at the end of The Ramayana. If you haven’t read it,The Ramayana is the story of Vishnu coming down to Earth in the form of Rama (think: Christ). Rama is destined to defeat Ravana, who is the king of all the demons (think: Satan). The final book (if you go with the traditional format, it should end on Book Six) describes the war between Rama and Ravana. It’s intense. It’s brilliant. It’s MASSIVE. My second class? Couldn’t give a rat’s ass. Their reason? Because the whole text is about destiny anyway, so you already know that Rama is supposed to kill Ravana from the very beginning. This takes away from the entire story and makes it disappointing. Apparently.

What is one to do with that? I couldn’t excite them about the text in any way. I couldn’t ask them a question that would cause them to tilt their heads with inquisitiveness. They were bound and determined to feel disappointed by this book, by golly, so they were. And I was disappointed by the final lecture.

And now. Now I receive a text message from a colleague saying that she is on the transit with a student of mine, overhearing a conversation this student is having with her mother. Apparently I am not a Christian, and my student is convinced of this because of something I said in class. Fortunately for me, however, she and her mother will be praying for me. Lucky day.

I don’t discuss my religion with my students. Frankly, I learned at the green age of six that you don’t talk about your religion with anyone who isn’t your religion because you’re probably going to just be condemned to Hell. This is the joy of growing up Catholic in the buckle of the Bible Belt. It’s such a joy. (Sorry for the sarcasm, but come on! It’s been nearly thirty years–can’t I just BE?) I can’t conceive of what I might have said in class that would have indicated that I’m not Christian (or that I AM Christian for that matter!)–there are three things I strictly keep out of my classroom at all costs: 1. my religion, 2. my politics, and 3. my sex life. Those topics are off limits so severely that I’m surprised my students can even attempt to nail me down at all.

I suppose it’s a good thing that I’ve got this one girl so confused. I suppose it indicates how awesome I am at being open-minded and willing to entertain different interpretations of the Human Condition. Tsk. My religion should not even be a concern of hers, and I am more insulted that she is discussing my religion with anyone at all let alone praying for me. In the good old Southern tradition, bless her heart.

These are the days I don’t want to pursue this career. These are the days I hate my job and wonder what could possibly redeem this job for me. These are the days I lament time wasted and tremble at the thought of starting over in anything else.

So I know I’ll continue. Despite anything else, I know I’ll keep teaching, and I’ll keep stepping on toes and pushing boundaries and pissing people off.

I’m not sure this is a valiant move on my part, but it is what is meant to happen. And that’s my dharma. So there.

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