Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Teaching at Hunter College

"Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater." ~ Gail Godwin, American novelist

"If you have stage fright, it never goes away. But then I wonder: is the key to that magical performance because of the fear?" ~
Stevie Nicks

Today marked my first college class teaching. My friend, Jamie, teaches an introductory political science and an elections class at Hunter College. He asked if I would come in and guest teach on the topic of social media and popular elections. With a great amount of nervousness, I accepted and went this morning at 10am to teach 2 sessions.

I have a secret - I have an awful case of stage fright. I've been known to get sick to my stomach several times before making a presentation or acting in a performance. I have a few techniques I have tried over the years and only one really seems to work: quit whining and just do it. It's amazing that once I get to the stage or the front of the room, I'm completely fine. It's the anticipation of performance that brings on the butterflies.

And so it was at Hunter. I had made copious lecture notes and rehearsed in my apartment. I was wringing my hands a bit, and worrying. Would I add any value? Would the students think what I had to say was relevant? What if I couldn't answer a question? And here's the truly terrifying one - what if there was no reaction at all from anyone? What if all I heard was crickets amid a sea of empty, expressionless faces? Ouch.

True to past experience, none of these things happened. The classes were engaged, interested, and interesting. I learned as much as they did in the course of the preparation and the class itself. Teaching is exactly like theatre with an added component of more front-loaded research, and theatre and research I know I can do. What surprised me most is how much I loved teaching a college class. Truly loved it. The time flew by, and when I was finished, I wanted to teach another session. Yes, the PhD-route is certainly the right one for me. Now I know that for sure.

In preparation for the class, I have had the great fortunate of amazing professors as clear examples. At Darden where I got my MBA, professors teach the case method. No lecturing allowed. The professor's job is to draw students out, to engage them immediately, and keep the dialogue flowing non-stop for close to two hours. This is no easy task and for two years I had the privilege to sit with masters of this teaching method like Ed Freeman, Robert Spekman, and Alex Horniman.

I have also been watching and studying Michael Sandel, a professor at Harvard who teaches a wildly popular class entitled simply "Justice". For the first time, the class is being shown on-line for free at Every Thursday a new class is uploaded. Sandel, like my Darden professors, is a master teacher that manages to engage and facilitate discussion in a very large lecture hall. Watching him made me re-consider teaching as a profession, and reignited my interest in going back to school and getting a PhD. I must remember to send him a thank you card.

I have just created an account on and uploaded the presentation I gave this morning at Hunter. I build presentations as guides for a discussion and not stand-alone documents. I'm glad to walk anyone through the presentation if they're interested!


Laura | The Journal of Cultural Conversation said...

Christa - this is awesome! Your presentation was fab and I'm sure the students learned a ton. You rock! xo

Christa said...

Thanks, Laura!! Can't wait for our presentation at Pace. :)


runner52 said...

Christa I've been a teacher for the past 29 years, 23 of the at the college level....teaching is exactly like acting, you give a new performance every time of luck with your future endeavors

Christa said...

Hi runner52! I didn't know you were a teacher. Would love to hear about your teaching experience and what led you to pursue that career. Where do you teach?


runner52 said...

I teach in a small community college in upstate NY, at night...I've been an adjunct instructor for the past 23 years, I also taught HS for 20 years. I did a small stint as a drug counselor (3 years) and now I have the best job (other then teaching college)I've ever had..working with adults, making sure their needa are met, make sure they are no not exploited, sanity comes on the nights that I teach...

Christa said...

Hi runner52! I am so excited to hear about your experience. I am in the midst of a big career shift, too, as your know form this blog. I am really inspired and encouraged by your story!