Reflection on teaching a new class (so far)

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

I have been busy lately and though I’ve had ideas for what to write here, I’ve been a little too busy to do much about it. Along with that, I’ve been trying to be a good girl and keep up with 750 words. (I signed up for the April challenge. Woo.) Anyway,

After mainly teaching first year composition with some variance in teaching online, I’ve recently started teaching upper division classes, which in some ways has been a baptism by fire (but that is ok. I’m stubborn, but I apply life lessons well). Though I miss the excitement/newness many freshmen feel for being in college and learning (yes, you heard that), I genuinely like my 358ers. Sure, some are ready to graduate and get a job (well, I don’t know how ready they really are to get a job, though they say they are. Sometimes I do wonder how that adjustment will be for them where they *have* to be at work or they *don’t* get paid. It will be a whole new scenario there.) But all of the students are knowledgable in their chosen fields and are great and fun critical and creative thinkers.

Since I’m halfway into the semester (upcoming spring break signals that halfway mark, I suppose), I’ve been thinking about how to change this class to make it better. There are some things I do need to change, even for my summer teaching.

  • Cut down the response assignments from four to 3 or 2. Most students do very well in this, but it makes a lot of extra grading, responding, and reading for me. I’m not being lazy, here. With all the other work I have them do, the reading, the writing, the in class work, it gets to be a lot of extra for a graduate instructor. If I didn’t have my own classes, though, I could make it make sense for me. Plus, students aren’t generally thrilled about these, either. Plus, we do in class writing and discussion on the readings as well and these in class exercises go pretty well. It is fun to have discussions with people who actually discuss.
  • Cut The Stranger by Albert Camus and do more with Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. Why? Lots of fun genre work can be done here, as Doc Mara smartly pointed out. I had touched on some of this entirely by chance in class lecture and discussion, but had not actually thought it out as well as I should have. I completely see this now.
  • Get a better writing handbook. The best one I’ve seen is Writing Analytically and I think I will order that one for summer and Fall. (and summer book orders are due this week, I think. On Friday, if I’m not mistaken. I’ll get it done.)

I also am thinking of assigning Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and bringing in the film as well for the end of the semester when I teach this again. I do want to teach a novel in this class and I want it to be something the students will like to read. Most didn’t mind Camus, but I don’t think they truly liked it, even though many said they did. I really didn’t believe them. I know that sounds awful, but it is true.

Each semester I think I grow a little as a teacher. I get a little better at it. The hardest part for me is being that hardass in the classroom. I also notice that students like to tell me what I term “human interest stories” a lot because they think I’ll care, since I’m female and supposedly “nurturing” and “emotional.” They learn pretty fast that I’m not that way. On the first day of class I always tell them “I’m the least nurturing female you ever met.” I’ll admit to being encouraging, sometimes to a fault, but that isn’t the same thing as nurturing. They don’t really seem to understand that concept though until later on. But I admire their skill in trying, I really do. (I never tell them that, though. There are certain things you can just never tell them.)

Now I just got to make it through the rest of this week before spring break. Good news is that I feel like a lot of the “big work” is done and now it is just reading and prepping. But of course I am working during spring break. As mom would say, I’m a trooper. Either that or I’m insane.

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