when students interview

Since I teach a course in ethnographic writing, I find it necessary to give my students some practice in interviewing. In order to do this, I borrow a technique from k-ho called  a “fishbowl interview,” in which students take turns interviewing me while everyone else observes.

This activity always makes me more nervous than any other day of class, mostly because I tell students that they can ask me anything they want. I set up a “context” for the interviews, such that they’re supposed to ask me things that help them understand our class as a subculture. But I’ve learned that some students, given the opportunity to grill their teacher, want to know way too much. I’ve been asked where I buy my clothes, whether I’m an “attention whore,” and which female body parts I prefer (asked in the crudest way you can imagine).

Of course, other students ask me great questions, like why I got into teaching in the first place, why I do the research I do, and why we do stuff like small group discussion in class.

To turn this ethnographic exercise back on itself, I think sometimes that the questions students ask me are glimpses into their own experience of school. I think it’s fair to say that professors and instructors are largely baffling to students, like black boxes in tweed. I always come away from these interviews with a renewed sense of the need at least to explain what we’re doing in class. Why am I putting you in small groups today? Why did we read this really dense, difficult essay? (That I seem to forget this lesson from semester to semester is probably a topic that deserves its own post.)

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