Monday, August 27, 2007

First Week: A Recap

The first week of classes came and went, and while I cannot say I dove in head first the way I have in other semesters, I can say (to continue the aquatic metaphor) that I am happy that teaching will help keep me afloat for the coming weeks.

I am teaching a mere two courses this fall: Drama, an introductory course that is precisely in my specialty, but which I haven't taught in five years, and Commonwealth Lit, an upper-level course that is only tangentially related to my area of expertise.

Because of the discrepancy, I've been spending much of the summer prepping the latter course, and hoping the former course would take care of itself. And after the first week of class, that strategy seems to be paying off. I'll talk more about these two ideas--the still-energetic auto-pilot class, and the total challenge class, over the coming weeks, but right now, they're both looking to have their invigorating aspects. Because of the newness of the subject matter in the upper level class, discussions are crackling, theoretically sophisticated, and really just fun to be a part of. Part of this is the fact that as a comparative novice to the subject matter, I'm not afraids of going too far over the students' heads, and am therefore (I think) actually grappling with this challenging stuff with them--in some ways as peers who are with me in this learning experience.

For example, I am having them submit discussion questions the day they are due to have finished a major text, which i sort through, and then reassign in slightly edited and narrowed down form, for them to use as response paper prompts. I assumed that the first batch of discussion questions would need real shaping and guidance, but lo and behold, I had a glut of excellent questions, and indeed had to exclude some that were better quality than I expected of any of them. I had three or four back-ups in case theirs weren't up to par, and not only did two of mine get replaced with more compelling versions of the same idea, I ended up only using one of the ones I wanted, only because it used a reading that is assigned for Wednesday, and I wanted a way for them to get that reading into their responses if they wanted them to. Admittedly, I think they'll be a pretty talented bunch in the grand scheme, but I expected that to a degree, and even those expectations are already being exceeded.

In the other class, I am finding (in part because of the introductory nature of the topic) that the average performance level will be lower, but it is a bunch totally willing to participate. Which is good for a drama class. Discussions aren't yet reaching a high level (it's early), but virtually everyone in the class has spoken multiple times within the first several classes. In particular, a brainstorming session on how drama and theatre have different modes of communicating information that prose fiction, the students came up with a really great list that got right at the heart of some core generic issues that will guide the semester--and reading Susan Glaspell's "Trifles" along with the short-story version of the same narrative "A Jury of Her Peers,"--the students not only got straight to the heart of that comparatively simple story, but more importantly, got at the heart of how the two different generic media provided different rhetorical opportunities. While I am not expected incredibly high level work in this class, (the course isn't really required of anyone, and does comparatively little curricular work), I am looking forward to a stimulating, fun semester. Even if we are reading some gruesome work later on in the semester.

Anyway, the short version of all of this is that the first week of teaching is leaving me optimistic about what the remaining 14 weeks will hold in the classroom.

(Note: while I won't say too much about familial health care issues, suffice it to say, there's not much good news to report right now, so I'll just avoid that topic for the moment).

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