Wednesday, February 27, 2013


If I grade all the papers, I can have ice cream (non-dairy, because of B's stupid allergy, but it's still pretty tasty).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On getting out of the way, or, What to do with a boring class

I'm in my (gasp!) 6th year of teaching the Brit Lit surveys--both halves. And, dare I say it? I'm getting bored.

This was my fun class for my first few years at Field College. It was a lot more engaging (and engaged) than comp, and less daunting than my upper-level seminars. I relaxed into it; discussion was pretty good, and I got to know the readings very well.

But now--well, I think that my standards for a good discussion are higher, to be honest. And my notes are, for the most part, 5 or 6 years old (and I just don't want to take the time to take a whole new angle on prepping the same texts!). I've changed up a few of the items on my syllabus, but with a 4/4 load, I need to keep this class pretty much ready to roll.

So I've been bored and mostly unimpressed with student participation, even though it's a smallish class--usually no more than 20 students (which is still my biggest class). I largely (if not entirely) blame myself for the middling participation; I'm pretty directive in my comments and questions, and EVERYthing that they say passes through me, in true Lame Discussion style (where the professor comments on every single remark that students make, and they only ever look at the professor as they speak).

The other day, sitting on the bed watching Bonaventure play with his xylophone, I decided to try something new. And today I took the first step towards what might be an improved survey experience.

Inspired by What Now?, this morning I tried something like the "written discussions" that she's written about on her blog: I put a question on the board asking them to compare and contrast an issue in a couple of texts, told them to write about it for 5 minutes to get their thoughts organized, and then told them that I wasn't going to speak for the next little while. Instead, one of them would talk about what she/he had written, and I expected others to jump in when something in the discussion connected with what they had written or gave them a new idea.

What took place over the next twenty (!!) minutes was the best discussion that they'd had all semester. It was great! I took notes, so that when they finally ran out of steam I was able to go back to topics that I thought we could look at in more depth. They had excellent things to say. They argued. Nearly everyone spoke, including a couple of students who never speak. And they talked to each other, not just to me.

So next week, we're rolling out Phase Two. I've asked them to keep an eye out for things that interest them in the reading and to think about what kinds of interpretive questions we might ask of the text. Then--I've warned them--we'll start with a 10-minute period in which I will not speak, and they will be responsible for discussing their impressions and coming up with some critical questions for discussion.

This probably isn't radical in the least, but it feels vaguely scary to me--to step away from my tried and (sort of) true agenda. But it might really inject some energy and life into a class that was feeling a little dead, without requiring me to actually do more prep work (although it will mean that I'll have to be more on my toes in class--which is great! An end to the boredom!). I'm sort of absurdly excited about this.

The thing is, as I told my students this morning, one of the main goals of the course is to help them develop the ability to have interesting discussions about literature and ask good interpretive questions about texts. I haven't been letting them do this. By getting out of the way, maybe I can create the space for them to really learn.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

All power to the Mihis!

(I am, by the way, aware of the grammatical problem with that title.)

In my last post, I hinted at a few grand things that were happening at work.

Well, #1: As of yesterday, TM and I have tenure. This is kind of weird, since "tenure" always seemed like something that was only held by people who'd been professors for ages and were hopelessly ahead of me. And yet, here we are.

#2: Last month, in anticipation of his receiving tenure, TM was voted faculty vice president for next year, which means that he'll be faculty president in 2014-15.

#3: And then I was asked to chair the Humanities Division. I'll keep directing the Honors Program for at least one year, too, which means--wait for it--a 3/2 teaching load! Woo hoo! (And I never say "woo hoo.")

#4: In an effort to totally concentrate power over Field College within our household, we have arranged to have Bonaventure named Vice President of Academic Affairs, and the cats are now Associate Deans (Student Life and Admissions, respectively). That's right: We now run everything.

Blah blah work blah blah baby's naps blah blah blah

I've become boring.

I'm obsessed with getting Bonaventure to nap more and for longer periods. Unfortunately, barring some magic spell, it's virtually impossible to "make" a baby sleep longer (unless I can stay in bed with him and let him nurse at will, anyway), so this is largely a fruitless and uninteresting topic.

But at the end of every day, I could tell you exactly when and for how long Bonaventure has slept--even if it's only through the reports of babysitters. I memorize this information effortlessly and think about it all the time. So the "largely fruitless and uninteresting" thing doesn't stop me from talking about it with anyone and everyone who asks me how I'm doing.

So! Yes, boring!

Work is the only other thing really going on (unless you count laundry, and let's not count laundry), and it's not wildly interesting, either. It's all right, though. I've found that having a baby has had the salutary effect of getting me to not worry too much about my classes, or put an excessive amount of energy in them. And they're going perfectly fine (even if I was a little boring last week--but that often happens around week 4 or 5). The fact that I've been at it for 5 years now probably helps; I don't need to prep obsessively and run through all of my notes in minute detail right before class. So I'm viewing this mellowing-out and getting-by as a good thing, in the balance.

There are a few grand things going on at work, actually. But because I want that post to have a different title, I'll hold off and write about them later. (This is what comes of not posting often enough: I now want to write multiple posts at once!)