(But our beginnings never know our ends!)

Email: lecturess[AT]gmail[DOT]com

Recent Posts Things I Read and/or People I Like

Late Spring To-Do List

  • Read scholarly book #1
  • Read scholarly book #2
  • Catch up on professional journals
  • Administer evaluations
  • Grade seminar research papers
  • Write two final exams
  • Grade final exams
  • Compute final grades
  • Order books for fall
  • Find apartment in New City
  • Attend INRU Commencement!

Powered by Blogger

Monday, September 12, 2005

The worst teacher in the world

That's me. Or at least that's how I feel about myself today, after another miserable meeting of my comp class. I hate this class. And although I know that many of the things that make it so miserable aren't my fault, I can't help but feel that, if I were a better teacher, it would be fun, lively, and productive at least some of the time.

I taught my first comp class last fall at INRU, and it was fantastic. It was a ton of work, of course, and along the way I made mistakes and learned a bunch of things not to do in the future--but overall I was really happy with my management of the class and with the fact that most of my students visibly improved as writers over the course of the semester. Based upon that experience, I was quite content to be assigned a comp class at Big Urban; in fact, I was looking forward to it.

But. There are some problems. At Big Urban, all the comp classes follow a standard syllabus organized around a topic that I personally find only passingly interesting--and that apparently my students find even less interesting. We read only one or two very short pieces per class, none of which have been substantive enough to sustain more than 20 or 30 minutes of discussion apiece. And yet my class periods are ONE HUNDRED AND TEN MINUTES. Add to this the fact that the class meets laaaate in the afternoon and the chemistry among my students is decidedly lackluster. . . and, yeah. Very bad.

I've been trying to incorporate short writing activities and group projects that build on our readings while also building writing skills--write the introductory paragraph for an imaginary 4-page paper on topic X; find three pieces of evidence that support and three that challenge a thesis we've just constructed--but everything feels just so, so painful. We'll have several good exchanges in a class period, where six or seven kids will get briefly engaged, but those good moments are punctuated by long lulls in which the most straightforward and focused questions produce NOTHING.

And the thing that kills me is that I know they're hating it, too--hating the readings, hating the pace of the class, hating the fact that they can't give me what I want (because really, at least half of them seem like good, hardworking kids; they just aren't interested in or able to engage with the material in any extended way). But what can I do? If it were my own course, I'd double or triple the amount of reading--and pick better fucking readings to begin with--and cut the class period by 30 or 40 minutes. But it's not, and I'm not allowed to do those things.

All I can do is grind my teeth and anticipate my hideous teaching evaluations.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:33 PM |


Blogger Ianqui commented at 11:09 AM~  

Ugh. I hate long classes. My grad class is 2hrs 45mins and my attention span is definitely as short as the students'.

Is their another person teaching the same comp class with the same syllabus? Maybe you can ask them how they end up dragging out discussion.

Blogger What Now? commented at 2:19 PM~  

Another option (depending a little bit about what the only-passably interesting topic is) is to create alternative "texts" in the class through non-dicussion-based classroom activities, "texts" that you can then discuss later.

An example (and I'll bet that jo(e) and A Delicate Boy and others would have more and better ideas): To work on compare and contrast skills, I have a folder full of pictures and images that I've pulled out of magazines or off of the internet. I pair the images up in obvious ways (I have one set of images that are of shoes; another set that are pictures of highway or street signs; another set are of funky dishes and glasses; etc.) and give each small group a pair of images; they then make a list of all similarities and differences between them--pretty basic. Then I collect the images, shuffle them, and hand them out again pretty randomly, so that each group ends up with two pictures that don't obviously go together at all. Now the group has to again list similarities and differences, but they have to use more imagination and attention to detail than before. Then, as a thesis-building component to this lesson (and doable in a longer class), sometimes I've told the students to imagine that their pair of pictures are hanging side-by-side in an art exhibit; their job is to figure out what kind of exhibit (that is, what kind of theme) would have both of these pictures? And that's a way of getting at something interesting that the pictures share, which leads us into an exercise of writing a thesis about these two pictures. Suddenly their compare-and-contrast thesis statements look more interesting than "These two images are similar, yet also different."

Now, that exercise (which is pretty fun) is totally not original to me; all of my good comp. ideas came from other teachers. So it might be worth talking with fellow profs. there to see if they have exercises that have been useful in class. You might even ask if you could sit in on a class session to see how they handle things.

Good luck!

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 10:09 PM~  

Thanks, guys.

I really like the exercise you describe, WN, and may steal it once we start really focusing on theses (the first paper is more or less a personal essay, which incorporates and reflects on some of the readings). And I'm sure my students would love a break from this one topic we're so single-mindedly pursuing!

And Ianqui, I can't believe how long *your* class is. I'd have to have a looong lunch or dinner break, I think, every week.

Want to Post a Comment?

powered by Blogger | designed by mela

Get awesome blog templates like this one from BlogSkins.com