Fits & Starts

Warning: Reflective Maundering Ahead.

“Well, one morning recently while I was shaving–probably after a period of feeling conscience-stricken about my repeated failures as a teacher of writing –I stuck this big nose of mine against the tip of the nose reflected in the mirror and shouted at the top of my lungs, CORBETT, YOU FRAUD!”

in Living Rhetoric and Composition: Stories of the Discipline, 1999.

I’ve hit that point in the semester–you know, THAT one.  The point in the semester when all the grand plans I’ve made for incorporating a new tool (this year, it’s diigo) or discursive situation (blogging) are at the very edge of falling apart.  The point in the semester when that experiment that worked so well on the small scale hasn’t quite caught on yet with the big groups.  The point in the semester where I’m about to decide to scrap it and start over again, planning next year’s class to be completely different, throwing too much energy into rethinking the next syllabus, the next set of assignments, the next cool new thing to do.  The point at which (usually) everything almost disintegrates because I let it.  The point at which I can either decide to stick to my pedagogical guns and fight it out with what I’ve got planned or can hastily scatter my energies in coming up with a new writing assignment.  It’s happened before–and it’s usually a mistake.

So, after experimenting this summer with blogs in my Comp & Research class, I figured I’d just go ahead and incorporate them–just on a limited scale–into one section of my Comp & Rhetoric class (the honors group).  Unfortunately, I didn’t give it nearly as much thought beforehand as I should have.  I didn’t quite come up with “the purpose” for our blogging that would tie in closely to our assignments and community-building (like I did so well in Comp & Research).  And so their blogging–through no fault of their own–has been haphazard and halfhearted at best; dissipated and disparate as a whole.  It’s not bad, but it’s not good, either.  But, unlike previous semesters, I’m not going to scrap it and never come back.  I’ll keep it–but where it belongs, and where I’ve concieved of it, in the second half of the two courses, not in the first.  It’s a start, a lesson learned.

The other thing I’d planned for my students was a collaborative research project; this one’s been rough going, too.  On my part, too many high ideals about independent behavior and spontaneous embrasure of the project on their behalf.  On their part… well, they ARE first year students…  The project is moving, but it’s going slowly, and I’m not 100% convinced we’ll be able to get a really good groove growing.  Maybe (again), something that might better belong in a different course, but not something to drop altogether.  Something to redefine, to describe and delineate better, but not run screaming from.

My other FYC class–well, they’re okay.  We’re moving more slowly than I thought we would be–I explicitly spaced things out differently than in the past, and I like it, but it’s different.  Still, the writing seems to be good, at least this far.  So that’s something.  I continue to refine the studio approach; the repurposing of my classroom from perimeter computer lab with ubermassive seminar table in the center of the room to a simple tables-and-chairs format has been a surprise blessing.  The seminar style is nice, but this new arrangement actually makes the room more easily changed on a day-to-day basis.

I dunno.  I started this all depressed about the many things that seem to be going wrong; but I guess things are going mostly right after all.

Andrews, you fraud.

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5 thoughts on “Fits & Starts

  1. I’m glad you’re not calling for an all-out retreat from the fray. Once you find that “purpose” you say is lacking, you’ll probably have a very interesting experiment on your hands.

    In the meantime, making deliberately provocative statements might help to raise the level of student engagement. Not that I’m advising that.

  2. Oh, how I have my “FRAUD” moments. Especially when I’m teaching the literature courses. Especially this semester when I have “that” student in class who likes to show off her “I’m a Tudors scholar” bullshit. After all, what the hell do I know about Beowulf or Tennyson or Joyce? Certainly not enough to fill 3 hours of class. And, really, am I teaching anything other than just a fancier version of Cliffnotes?!? I mean, what do they think I’m reading when I’m reading Beowulf?!? I get flustered, get my dates and people confused, which only makes it all worse. I totally get this post.

    Just wait until you start the dissertation. That’s an entire different mindfuck. It certainly is that time of the semester.

  3. You have to wonder, or at least this is from my perspective, how much of that point in the semester is also the result of running smack into the wall. This is always the point when I question every pedagogical decision I made in August — especially the one where I assign too much writing that I now need to read if not grade. We are tried and the end of the semester is so far away…

  4. Fraud? Try getting hired to teach writing by one of the world’s most successful engineering programs. Most days I’m fine–in my element and expert in all I do. Other days, I shut my door and pray no one asks a question. I mean, if I screw up an English program, who cares? English programs are already screwed up. But this program actually has things going for it!

    Ahh! I’m a charlatan!

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