Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Some thoughts on the first week of teaching

Cautiously, I am going to say . . .

/knocking on wood

. . . that I think this will be a considerably better teaching quarter than the last one.


1. Same time of day, much stuffier room, and yet, these students already are much more engaged and talkative than the last set.

2. I know how to teach the material better this time around.

3. I've come up with several new ideas for ways to structure the course on-the-fly (sometimes while actually standing in the class) that I think are going to make a positive difference. My favorite new idea, so far: looking at the three very short texts I asked them to read on the first day several times over the course of the quarter for maybe 10 minutes after we've discussed new skills and concepts. That means we don't have to uncover everything in these texts at one go, they get an idea of just how dense even very short pieces can be, they see a demonstration of how what I'm teaching can help them toward new insights, and they'll have an indicator of our progress as a class.

I asked the students to do some diagnostic writing on those first readings. I may ask them to answer the same question on the same pieces at the end of the course so they can see the difference--not so they can feel abjected before the wonders I have revealed to them, but so they can see how they've improved and be reminded that reading and coming back to things over time, from different perspectives, is important.

3. I have Theater majors in the class this time! Several of them, even! God, I love those kids. Why?

  • They have a sense of what it's like to perform in front of an audience and therefore try to look interested and encouraging while you're talking--at least, so long as they don't hate you.
  • They understand things like persona and setting and voice--and they apply their understanding to literature. They may even talk about characters or narrators addressing the audience as "bringing down the fourth wall," Lord love 'em.
  • You don't have to worry that there will be a long and awkward silence when you ask whether someone will read a passage out loud.
  • Why are most of them so enthusiastic! about! everything!? I don't know, but damned if it doesn't do my hardened ol' heart a lot of good.
  • They are not afraid to improvise, to experiment, or to talk in front of other people.

Now, don't get me wrong, folks. I love kids from other majors, too. I could wax philosophical about the virtues of science majors or PoliSci majors or even English majors, too. And I have personally and intellectually adored plenty of my shyer students. And yeah, I know I ought not to deal too much in major-based stereotypes. But I also know this, having drama kids in the room sure makes my job one hell of a lot easier. The only trouble is trying to make sure they don't literally upstage everyone else.

4. I have discovered where they hide the colored chalk.

On another note:

I think I have a class which doesn't need so much prompting this time. So I am going to work hard to make myself more a part of the background this quarter. Sometimes, I can be more of a control freak in the classroom than I like. I find myself re-phrasing students' words just a little more, maybe, than I should, because I'm so eager to help them push their ideas further. And then I risk not hearing what they're really saying. Or I just end up doing little mini-lectures because I want to make sure we cover all the bases and I don't really trust the mechanisms of discussion to allow us to do that.

Ultimately, though, I don't I can discount the major motivator behind control-freakism: insecurity. It's true that I've become a much more confident classroom teacher in the past year and change. But I need to trust the students, the process of discussion, and especially myself more. I need to learn to get out of the way and let it happen more frequently, but I also need to realize that I will be able to handle it if we really, truly get into a heated discussion.