Sunday, December 16, 2007

When Students Attack

I was further reflecting on the nature of lecturing and the madness of going into a room, standing at the front, and having 20-150 people take notes on your random thoughts. It’s a strange business, and can be a very stressful one. Jerry Seinfeld remarked that most of us fear public speaking almost as much or maybe more than death, if we are at a funeral, most of us would prefer to be in the casket rather than delivering the eulogy. While this may be a bit extreme, there is an element of truth to it.

After thousands of years of evolution when we are in stressful situations our bodies are geared to either 'fight or flight', when we have to speak in public, epinephrine (or adrenaline) and norepinephrine (or noradrenaline) goes coursing through our bodies - way more than we need, but we can neither run away or fight, so instead we have to somehow harness all that energy into our performance. This is often difficult to do, I know some lecturers whose hands sweat and their mouth goes dry before a lecture, others get shaking knees and their voices begin to quaver. This is because their hearts are racing and they are preparing for a fight.

In this heightened state there is a natural fear of attack, and that fear will manifest itself in many ways; in terms of the fear of making mistakes in your lecture or losing your place, or that the students won't like you or they won't 'get' what you're trying to say. There is also the fear of physical attack, irrational but always present; at best the attack may be something tame like a pee shooter attack (like in the Marx Brothers film "Horse Feathers"), or at worst it could be a fatal attack as was the case for Cassian of Imola. He was a teacher whose students bound him to a stake and tortured him to death by stabbing him with their pointed iron styli. There are in fact many such historical cases of students killing their teachers, and no doubt somewhere in our collective unconsciousness every lecturer remembers such events just before they are about to begin to speak.

So the next time you are sitting in a lecture, have a bit of sympathy for your poor lecturer, they are fighting thousands of years of evolution to get their point across to you :-)

No comments: