The first class I ever taught was a Lisp programming class at the University of Chicago. When I showed up that first day in October 1993 I had prepared what I wanted to discuss fairly well, but as I quickly discovered I hadn’t practiced everything. The technical details of getting things to display were tricky, and I learned that I was terrible at improvising. After that first class in which I felt completely embarrassed, I learned to over prepare. That guided my teaching for years and years afterward.
What I have recently discovered is that I’m getting better at improvisation. I will never be like my colleagues who can just show up with an idea in their head and work out all the details right then and there, no matter how much I admire that in them. But I can handle a bit of chaos without collapsing.
For example, this quarter has had a bumpy start. We had a power outage (granted, one that we knew about approximately a week in advance) in the first week of the quarter that took out all sorts of things we needed. My daughter is traveling during her spring break, and there were lots of things to arrange for that. I have three research papers to write in the next six weeks. Both my partner and daughter have their birthdays in April. In short, there’s a LOT going on right now. All of this has left me under prepared for class, by which I mean I print out my (long-ago written) notes and dash to class without looking at them. Most of the time during lecture I don’t look at my notes. And, yes, these are classes I’ve taught multiple times, which makes that much easier, but I have found myself making mistakes because I’m under prepared.
And I’m mostly recovering from those mistakes. I haven’t even had to postpone something because I couldn’t work my way out of it during class, which is my go-to technique when chaos pokes it head out during my classes. Again, yes, it helps that I’ve done the Python classes so many times. But I also think that it’s a sign of progress in my development as a teacher that I don’t freak out when I realize I’ve gone off track.