Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What to do?

So today was one of those know the type...It's a grey day, the Thanksgiving break is coming up, my students in the survey just did a bang-up job with a long and complex novel, and today, when we're reading a one-act play (Beckett's Endgame, admittedly not a crowd-pleaser), six people have read...

I take a deep breath. I say I want to salvage the class a bit, but even those who have read are
generally not jumping out of their seats to participate (save one or two). I try to get a bit of stuff on the board that helps us work through plot (as it is). That's not working. I skip ahead and give a bit of background on Beckett and Existentialism, which is fine, but only takes me about 15 minutes, since I hadn't prepared a full on lecture about Beckett (in fact, the material was supposed to be delivered by a student who was making up for a missed group project--he
didn't show).

So there are twenty minutes in the class. Had I been thinking a bit more quickly, I would have done a fishbowl exercise, and had the student s who had read form a smaller circle, and
led a discussion of that group (which, incidentally, would have featured many of the class's strongest performers). But I thought of that too late.

I said, "I'm going to dismiss class, but first, I want everyone to read the play and prepare a discussion question, typed up, for Friday." I then proceeded to pass back some graded quizzes
(which the class had performed admirably on).

As I start passing them out, someone asks me a question about the play, and I start to tell them that we'd get to it on Friday, but I realized that the exercise I wanted to do with the discussion questions meant we wouldn't get to it on Friday at all, and that their stupid non-reading had derailed any progress on this play that we'd be able to make. And then I thought, "Hell, I'm having trouble dragging my butt through this week, myself."

So on the spot, I canceled Friday's class. It's the last Friday before our week-long Thanksgiving break, we'd be trying to handle a complex text in a fifty-minute class where numbers were
depleted anyway, they've been doing really well up until this point, and, well, I'm tired.

Some students, though, were sad. Some of them (admittedly, a very few) WANTED to talk about Endgame. And I wanted to respect the work they had done to prep for class. So I said that I'd hold an optional class discussion at the local coffee shop and there would be an extra-credit question on the exam on the play.

What a mess.


Mel said...

Don't be so hard on yourself -- this time of semester is really tough. Most (if any) students aren't going to hold it against you for cancelling a class -- especially since you're offering extra credit. And Beckett's tough in any case. I often wind up writing myself notes in my syllabus files to lighten up the end of term the next time around (unfortunately I don't always follow my own advice...)

Tenured Radical said...

I agree with Mel. And frankly, towards Thanksgiving Break, I schedule stuff that doesn't require them to be alert. Like show the movie of Endgame (just kidding!) I admire you for teaching Beckett in the first place. They shoudl too,