Developing teacher presence is something I continually work on. Not the kind, mind you, I remember in high school where the nuns expected us to jump out of our chairs with a “Sister, Yes Sister!” whenever they asked us a question. And certainly not the kind my speech professor modeled when he taught a class or two from the rooftop of the communications building while we, below, wondered just how sure-footed he really was.
Instead, I work on things like making connections with my students. Do I know a little bit about each one so that they genuinely believe that I care about their learning? Do I know their stories? Is my voice tone such that they hear passion and not pressure? Do I have apt examples and anecdotes that back up the sometimes recondite theories and concepts?
I think we owe it to our students to strive to improve our teaching presence. And yet, I’ve come to realize that try as I may in this noble endeavor, there are those moments I lose a few students to side-conversations and cell phone sneak-peeks. That’s when I remember the beloved nuns and eccentric orators. It might also be why I wrote this poem, “Sting” (Kenney, 2016):
With my lecture on the brink of defeat
to side conversations and roaming
cell phone eyes, I asked if anyone
had trouble paying attention
to the newly introduced idea
when the quietest student of all
raised her hand and said it was the wasp
skimming the ceiling that had hers-
and every head looked up in time
to see the yellow-black glider,
its long legs dangling
like landing gear
looking for a runway.
For a second, it hovered over the middle row
as if pondering descent onto a mound
of chow mein- then quickly crossed
the room in one face-felt swoop-
the face belonging to Kicks
who removed his cap in reprisal
when the gentle voice opined
and suggested we keep in check
any weapons that whack or smack-
for venom’s fresh spill, she warned,
meant havoc and hate and harshness of hive.
She whispered why it wasn’t worth the risk
and explained how one of her friends
got stung in the mouth-
the horror of tongue-swell,
the panic of purple.
And so we sat
for what seemed a semester
with sealed lips and trailing eyes-
a kind of rattled serenity
I never thought possible, thanks
to a lesson in presence, one may I learn to land.
Kenney, R. (2016). Sting. The National Education Association Journal, 32 (1), 63-64.