“Approved attributes and their relation to face make every man his own jailer;
this is a fundamental social constraint even though each man may like his cell.”
Erving Goffman

Chelsea promises there will be a blooper section at the end of the Tuning the Student Mind movie dedicated to my constant whine regarding “my notes”. Listen, I come by my hatred of notes quite honestly.

My first teaching assignment at College for Creative Studies was a required Humanities course. I was issued a mandated text book that outlined in some detail every important cultural/historical event of the 20th century. Oh, the responsibility! Each week I would set myself up at my kitchen table surrounded by books, notes, pens and paper. Scribbling furiously, committed to covering everything, I was intent on insuring that I transmitted all the important facts to my young charges.

Armed with papers, stockpiled notes and slides, I would arrive in class each week ready to lecture. Typically, I would start class with a line like this: “Karl Marx’s eight hundred pages of Das Kapital are, in a sense, quite Hegelian.” Honestly, I am blushing with embarrassment as I recount this unfortunate story.

One day, well into the semester, I looked up and noticed that many of my students had fallen asleep. Not the head bobbing trying to stay awake dozing but the head back drooling kind of sincere sleep. Rather than feel the shame of the situation, I laughed and said, “I’m not very good, am I.” They smiled and together we laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation.

In his book, “Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”, Erving Goffman writes about the impact of face to face interaction on identity development. Goffmans work was the first to establish the validity of researching human behavior in social situations. It was Goffman who originally wrote about the “belief” in the part that one is playing as the strongest aspect of identity development. In other words, our own commitment to our “perceived” character is the result of our own total immersion in the part that we are playing at any given moment. Goffman writes, “And to the degree that the individual maintains a show before others that he himself does not believe, he can come to experience a special kind of alienation from self and a special kind of wariness of others.” Oh, Erving, the shame of it all!

And what, you may be asking yourself, does this “Goffman” interlude have to do with “getting off my notes”? Truth is my failure that first semester came as a result of my dedication to playing out the role of teacher. As Goffman suggests, I was guilty of putting on a show!! The implications of this reality are profound. You see, I was so taken by the responsibility of being a good teacher that I had forgotten to bring my WHOLE self to the act of teaching. My concentration on “performing” led to a narrowness of interaction, an inability to connect with my students and a deep seeded insecurity. As Goffman suggests, I became a prisoner of a cage of my own making. So taken with my own performance, my “notes” became a necessary prop to insure my professionalism, identity and confidence.

Getting off my notes has been a scary process. While my attachment to them hindered my development as a teacher, releasing them required that I learn to teach in the moment, learn how to connect with my students and count on my ability to share what I know in an organic way. While I am still a work in progress (thus, the blooper section of the movie), I have made progress. Less motivated by professional desires, I act as a more natural force in the classroom.

Most importantly, getting off my notes released me from my commitment to role playing. It expanded my perception of myself and reminded me that the very nature of “notes” is to bind the teaching experience. The freedom that comes with acting as myself rather than my role is like no other freedom I have ever known.

Molly Beauregard