In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Scribus Mundanus Me

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Perhaps you have to be a teacher or know one to smile at this article a good friend sent me today, but I enjoyed seeing myself typecast as a certain type of teacher. Though I have taught my share of literature courses and may have been Libris Scholaris, especially in grad school as a Teacher’s Assistant, guest lecturer or contract lecturer at the university, but I am quintessentially Scribus Mundanus all the way these days, as I stare down a pile of ungraded essays beckoning me to my desk even at this late hour. 

John Minichillo on Timothey McSweeney’s blog writes “How to be a Better Teacher-Person Through Apathy: On the Heirarchy of English Professors, a Nonmenclature: Scholar-Type, Teacher-Type and Artist-Type” to illustrate and caricature teachers on this very week of the teacher. I have been all three, but teaching three composition courses this semester and some semesters four or more, I relate to this description:

The second type of English professor is the composition scholar, or teacher-type, Scribis mundanus. They use the word “text” with far less frequency and their obsession lies in “pedagogy,” a word never uttered outside of universities, but a catch-all title that means, broadly, “teaching.” While Libris scholares teach to make a living, so that they can study texts, Scribis mundani have always wanted to teach, and they have a way of resenting other professors who don’t engage in the frequent self-examination of their own teaching practices. They believe in a growth model for teachers, so that they are involved in teacher training and/or disseminating self-assessment tools, and they command their classrooms with a dynamic flair. They are forever pondering goals and outcomes, and will dole out experimental assignments, so that during any given semester the class content, approach, or grading methods of Scribis mundanus may have completely changed from previous semesters. The field of composition developed out of necessity and it’s the new kid on the block. At the beginning of the twentieth century students were interested in literature, and classes were introduced where these students would write “themes” each week, so that these primitive papers became what was graded in the course. Over time, English classes were separated into literature classes and writing classes, and composition was the methodology that grew up around paper writing, which became the subject, whole and entire, of composition classes.

I am a teacher. I am in it to teach. I use the word pedagogy, yes. Reading “texts” and creating art are collateral benefits that go with and develop from the art of teaching. Becoming an expert on others’ writing and teaching others to write, I have improved my own writing. The reciprocity has quite satisfactorily evolved into paid self-enrichment. 

Mundanus? Sure, the comp grind, as it is referred to in the biz, has its mind-numbing moments, for example, that pile on my desk that promises endlessly winding, often pointless poor prose as well as the surprise satisfaction of a well-turned phrase. I’m happy merely to find the few that followed the assignment directions. But then I remember that my own writing, discipline and substance have developed over a life-time, several decades. What can I expect in mere weeks? 

Maybe the next professor down the comp chain will have better luck weeding out the disorganization in this semester’s crop of students’ harried developing minds and the bad habits cemented over the years. In three weeks, my tenancy with them will be up (except for those who choose to try again with me). And then it’s summer school!

 
Image Credit: http://www.edweek.org

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