In all but one of my classes, the semester is well underway. (The one class meets Monday nights, so I’ve only seen them once, so who the hell knows about them.) And while it’s still early days, I’m pretty stoked. Why? Well, here is the semester so far.
- I’m co-supervising a grad student’s capstone project (It’s a portfolio deal where the student revises two major projects to publishable quality) and while she still has a long way to go, there are really interesting ideas there, and I actually believe she can write something of publishable quality with mentoring. Which, you know, is the point of the whole exercise.
- In each of my three courses that meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, all of the students are energetic and enthusiastic and they talk. This is such a change from my classes last semester! I have been blessed by whatever god is in charge of talkative students! And, it seems, they are doing the reading! Even in the gen ed lit class in which I’m assigning a lot of reading, and difficult reading at that! Huzzah!
- I think that part of the difference with the talking is, in fact, the population of students. However. I also think part of the difference is in the way that I’m handling discussion and the way that I’m handling connecting the dots between what I’m asking them to do and what I expect them to learn. Which is great to see that working so quickly.
- I think I might be a better teacher in the Spring than in the Fall. Which sucks to realize, but I think it’s true. When I think about my “great semesters” throughout history, I only have one “great semester” that happened in the fall. That’s in 9 years. I think part of this has to do with the weird rhythm of Fall Semester, and with the days getting shorter and the weather getting crappier, but I think part of it is that the break between Spring and Fall is long enough that I forget the lessons that I learned about what works and what doesn’t. I make corrections between Fall and Spring. And then I have a good Spring and I am less thoughtful about the Fall. And I make the same stupid mistakes I thought I’d corrected in the Spring in the following Fall. I’m wondering if knowing this is half the battle – that maybe I can break the stupid cycle of learning the same things over and over again now that I see that this is happening? Hmm. I also wonder why it took me 9 years in this job to realize this, but I’m choosing to focus on the positive.
- In terms of the courses themselves that I’m teaching, I am so flipping excited about what I’m actually teaching!!!! I love the books! I love the assignments! I love love love what I’ve put together for my students! Now, it is true that I’ve assigned a lot of shit to myself this semester. I’m teaching many “new” texts. (I put that in quotes because I’ve read all but one thing I’m teaching, but some of what I’m teaching I haven’t read for years, and some of the things I’ve only read once. So I’m going to have a lot of reading, particularly once we hit about week 7. In other words, what’s exciting now might become a Really Bad Idea as time marches on. I’m hoping, though, that my enthusiasm for what I’m doing is going to make the work seem like it’s not work.
- In one of my classes, I’ve totally got a student who is rocking a handlebar mustache. While that might seem superficial, it makes me smile, and that is a nice energy boost at the end of the day, to have something that has nothing to do with teaching or anything that makes me smile. It doesn’t hurt that he has good things to contribute to the class, but also: Handlebar Mustache. Unironically, if not unselfconsciously. It’s such a nice change from the typical facial hair of today’s male English major, which tends to be the scruffy homeless dude scraggly beard. (Note: that beard makes it so that a) I am constantly mistaking one dude in the major for another and b) whenever I’m out in the world, I’m convinced I see former students of mine from afar, and then it turns out to be a total stranger up close.)
- Remember that student from my course last semester who was a first semester freshman who was so freaking enthusiastic and intense and awesome with the ideas but who gave me pause because he needed to catch up to himself in terms of technique and methodology and all that jazz? Well, the good news is that he is not taking a course with me this semester. The better news is that he’s taking a class with CF, so she will reinforce some of what I introduced to him last semester, as well as introducing him to new and more awesome things for majors, and also it’s the intro to the discipline course, so he’s going to learn a heck of a lot about English Studies and about the ways and means of things that he needs to know to succeed. The totally freaking awesome news is that he wrote a paper over the break – you know, just for fun – using Nietzsche to talk about Kerouac, and he’s meeting with me to talk about it – among other things – on Tuesday, and he’s interested in working up a presentation for the student research thingie that happens every spring. AND HE IS ONLY A FRESHMAN!!!!! Yes, he’s intense, and yes, he has a lot to learn, but I am so excited that I get to mentor him! And I’m so excited that he wants me to mentor him! Huzzah!!!!! If this continues, he’s going to need his own pseudonym, but I don’t want to jinx it by giving him one prematurely
Aside from the teaching, the semester is also underway in terms of service and research. Well, in terms of thinking about research and in terms of service annoying the fuck out of me. The good news is that after I presented some service stuff at this week’s department meeting, which got the usual bullshit responses in the meeting itself, a number of colleagues approached me later to say that they had my back (and people did also back me up in the meeting, but it still left me in a very bad mood after the meeting itself that people think I’m trying to do something nefarious when really I’m just trying to get shit done in spite of obstacles – also known as obstructionist assholes – and it’s frustrating that I know that what I want to happen will happen ultimately, so the whole fighting the obstructionists thing is just a waste of my time as opposed to engaging in meaningful debate). The bad news is that I’ve just been thinking about research rather than writing. I need to get on the research plan in the next week. For serious.