“Of course you can’t say that because then you are a whore…”

This quote from an interview with David Mamet over at Suicide Girls (caution: Suicide Girls is definitely NSFW) contains genius:

 

DRE: Have you ever felt like a whore?

 

DM: I’ll tell you what my dear friend Shel Silverstein, may he rest in peace, said. I was bitching and moaning about screenwriting and he said, “Dave, I’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s like you’re the greatest cabinetmaker in the world. People come to you and say I want you to make a perfect example of a Biedermeier table and we’ll pay you whatever you want. You say, okay. You work on it you’re so proud of it and they take it and they set fire to it. You say, You said you’d pay for it and you set fire to it. They say Oh no, we just wanted to do it for a movie effect. So they come back next year and say, We want you to make another one of those Biedermeier tables. We’ll pay you even more money than we paid you last year. You say, Ok, I’m a craftsman. It’s all about craft. I need the money because my girlfriend and my kids like it. So you build the Biedermeier table even better than before and they take it and set fire to it. By the third or fourth year you aren’t going to be making that table quite as well anymore because you know they’re going to fucking set fire to it.” The problem with writing movies for hire is that you’re constantly saying to yourself “What difference does it make? They’re going to ruin it anyway.” Of course you can’t say that because then you are a whore. So you say, “No, I will not go down that road. I’m going to write the best goddamn script I can.” Then they hate it. So you say, “What’s the problem?” The problem is not with the people who are paying you because what they do is perfectly clear. The problem is with yourself. Not that you’re writing a less good script, but that you know that you’re getting paid to write a script that no one is ever going to fucking understand.

 

 

As I gear up for the Fall semester (2 1/2 weeks!), I find myself once again going through a dialog like this in my head, the same as I do before every semester. I teach a heavy load (4/4), and each of these classes is a fairly large class. By large I mean 300 students in my American Government course, 60 and 47 in my sections of Intro to Political Theory, and a relatively small 45 students in my senior/graduate level Kentucky Politics course. The temptation is always there to cut corners and put in as many shortcuts as possible, just to make it easier on myself. I mean, like Mamet indicates for screenwriting, there is often little reward (outside of seeing the “light” go on behind your students’ eyes – you live for that) for really putting yourself out there with a spectacular course design, top-notch PowerPoints, well-thought out assignments, activities, tests, etc. Read the Chronicle of Higher Education’s message board “In the Classroom” and you’ll quickly get a feel for what I’m talking about (however, there are some inspirational souls on that board as well).

But, like Mamet, I cannot force myself to just dial it in. I love what I do too much. And so I put on another cup of coffee and polish those lectures until they shine, sweat over the design of my PowerPoints, think up new ways to incorporate social media and web 2.0 technologies into my courses…you get the idea. It isn’t that I don’t use certain technologies and techniques to achieve certain efficiencies – you have to when you are confronted with large numbers of students – but I use these things (like personal/audience response devices, scantrons, etc.) so that I can have the time and resources available to do other, more innovative things (like blogs, wikis, Second Life, etc.).

It’s like I tell my students: you can’t always control what happens to you in life, but you can control how you react to it. I can’t peel back my teaching load, but I can control the enthusiasm and attitude I bring toward my teaching. I love it. I’m a teaching addict. Helping your students to “get it” is better than most any high I know. So I keep going back and giving it all I’ve got, even though the effort is greater than the reward. I can’t just say I’m going to dial it in, because, as Mamet puts it, then I’d be a whore. And Mama Rice didn’t raise any whores.

Fall semester can’t get here soon enough…

Link to interview (work safe).

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Filed under Academia, Random Thoughts, Teaching

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