Fare Thee Well, Last Semester.

Continuing the theme of my last post, I sally forth with a bit of reflection and goal-setting. This time: teaching. For everyone’s sake, I’ll limit myself to a ProfHacker-inspired 3×3 list:

Part 1: Three Things That Worked Really Well Last Term.

  1. New Course: Masterpieces of American Literature.  This was a new departmental offering, and freed me up to approach from a different angle some material that was starting to get a little stagnant in its literary history survey format.  I was bold, and took a thematic approach: “Literature and Violence.”  We read some standards, and we read some nonstandards. We read some easy stuff, and we read some edgy stuff.  And, for the most part, it worked.  The theme was legit, and didn’t seem tacked on arbitrarily at all, and the students seemed to enjoy the framework.  This semester, I’m teaching it again, and have a good solid idea about what kinds of writing assignments we’ll do (which was the one real gap in last semester’s course).  This class feels good.
  2. Getting Over Cell Phones.  I used to get redfaced and fume and spit and stutter when a cell would go off in class.  It was more distracting than helpful, in most cases.  Before last semester, I decided that “That’s not my coronary.”  Instead of calling students out, I ignored it.  I announced a policy that basically amounted to “if you want to text/facebook/sleep during class time, that’s your choice; you’re still responsible for the material.”  And I never mentioned it again.  Classes self-policed for disruptive behavior, and I had an otherwise productive and problem-free semester.  This semester, I took the cell policy out of the syllabus altogether, and haven’t mentioned it at all.  We’ll see how it goes. I think it’ll be fine.
  3. I’m sure there’s another, but I’m so happy about the first two, that I’m not worried about it.

Part 2: Three Things That, Well, Didn’t.

  1. Writing Assignment Length Got Away From Me.  I’ve got a tendency to ramble, and this doesn’t help very much in designing and describing writing tasks.  I’ve always been a firm believer in specific writing tasks, but the last year has gotten out of hand–with some descriptions even managing to obfuscate rather than clarify.  This semester, I’ve set myself to a hard 250-word limit on assignment descriptions.  I like it so far.
  2. Epic Fail with Blogging.  I came off of my summer 1320 course, which incorporated blogs in a small-group setting, on an understandable high.  This didn’t translate to 1310 last semester. Not only were the students incredibly resistant to blogging, I didn’t give myself enough time to prep and generate what we’d actually be using them for in class.  So those fell on their faces pretty hard. It seems silly in face-to-face classes of this size anyway, so I’m taking a break from blogs this semester, but will come back at it with more prep in the fall and see what happens.
  3. Predetermined Writing Topics: Ew.  There’s a reason I haven’t done assigned topics in a long time.  Students, if they don’t hate them outright, certainly don’t ever really buy in to the topics.  This was another “came off a summer course high” thing; I have one paper in my Comp & Research class that’s got a set of readings prechosen–the first paper of the semester–set up that way for some very particular pedagogical reasons, including wanting to spend time practicing some writing first, rather than trying to get a group of database newbies to figure out how to find useful pairings on a topic in the first week of the course.  Unfortunately, it didn’t translate well to what I was doing in 1310, which ultimately turned into some of the most lockstep, formulaic writing I’ve ever assigned.  Ew.

Part 3: Specific Actions to Improve Work/Life Quality This Semester

  1. Say No to More Things.  This was some good advice from my dean.  Feel free to say no to requests from students and administrators and focus on my graduate work.  This doesn’t mean I have to say no to everything, but it definitely took away a lot of feelings of guilt about turning down requests.  It’s hard, but it’s already working.
  2. Be More Physically Organized.  I’m pretty organized in terms of my computer and everything on it–whether in terms of folders and filenaming conventions or in terms of bookmarks and taxonomies.  But my office is a well-masked disaster, and all of the assorted things that just plain still have to exist in hard copy (uni contracts, for example, or elements to save for promotion & tenure folders I’ll need to put together) are mostly just crammed in folders in random filing cabinet and desk drawers.  That can’t go for much longer, and organizing my physical space will certainly bring a level of peace to my professional/scholarly life.  Keeping up with a calendar (my new iPod Touch should help with this) is also part of this scheme.
  3. Eat More Leafy Green veggies (and with other people).  Gotta take care of myself; so a more balanced approach to diet is a good start.  Nothing crazy–just more sensible choices  Also, I need to get out from behind the door and socialize and collegiate a bit more, too.  It’s too easy to cave up when your office is on the top floor of the building, so I’m going to try to eat lunch with the colleagues more often this semester.  The caf’s not THAT bad…

8 thoughts on “Fare Thee Well, Last Semester.

  1. Definitely can relate for your last three comments. In the end, you need to take care of yourself and organize yourself so that you can get through ALL the things that come to your doorstep.

  2. #3 of the 3rd list: you could easily have inserted “just me and my homies and a quart of beer,” thus neatly tying the Beastie Boys into your rhetorical knot. But no. Instead, you opted to ignore the gloriousness of all that is Beastie.

  3. “Not only were the students incredibly resistant to blogging”…hope you will expand on your post and theorize on why your students didn’t buy in. I’d love to try this with my first-year composition students but I need to learn more.

    1. Thanks, Gina. I still want to try it–and I’ve used it to some success in the past. Some of this recent failure had to do with the students coming from fairly traditional educational backgrounds that pooh-pooh blogs; I just couldn’t overcome the printcentric bias that has gotten them pretty far in school thus far. (This was an honors section). Some of it just had to do with me being a little too free and unstructured with their blogs. I gave assignments early on in the semester, but eventually I’d just say “well, blog about it.” They had problems with that. Also, the class itself (a face to face class) was small enough that the blogs just plain seemed redundant. We didn’t really need the extra space for interaction… The last time I’d used them, it was a summer course; everything was so compressed that the extra space was not only needed from my own perspective, it was also welcomed by most of the class.

  4. I read this a couple days ago and never responded.

    Too bad about the blogging idea. I think you’re still on to something there. It’ll be interesting to see how Donna’s classes turn out. I’ve blogged in several of my courses and it’s been one of the better experiences of my academic career. It’s the one thing most people ask me for–the URL to my dissertation blog. I don’t know if it’s helping them but I’d like to think so.

    And, I’m going to return to blogging more about disability, rhetoric, and my own life as it relates to disability, rhetoric, and popular culture.

    I am interested in your observations on pre-determined writing prompts. Like “how” pre-determined? I’ve had colleagues here do the “Write about whatever you want” descriptive essays but I to do the “Compare/Contrast the American Dream with the American Reality” papers. How formulaic were the assignments?

    1. Rambly response: A few prompts were fairly open: read an article, critique/analyze/respond and so forth, kind of thing. Others were quite closed–here’s a set of concepts; choose one to learn about and explain. In that case, some of my concepts were just well beyond what my class was willing or able to wrap their brains around. That or they just plain didn’t interest them at all, not even enough to fake it.

      On another assignment, I gave a very closed set of readings and asked them to do a rhetorical analysis. It was okay, but because they were all working from the same text(s), it became “stock” very quickly.

      All of these (and more) were assignments I’ve done before with moderate to high levels of success, but because I was being so specific with concepts, readings, approaches, etcetera, it got a little too prescriptive. The students weren’t really engaging with the digital native/digital culture topic, and that made it much harder to work with.

      Usually I do something more like your “compare/contrast” thing, but allow them quite a bit of latitude in what they draw on, and that works. This time, when even the materials I wanted them to draw on were prescribed, it got very, very boring. One or two essays, it’s okay to be that tight, but the whole semester? Not so much…

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