Friday, January 28, 2011

on the luxury of small classes

I am SO loving my classes this semester! Well, maybe not freshman comp, because freshman comp in the spring is always a painful slog, made more painful by the fact that about half my students this semester were in my Basic Comp class last semester. They imprint on professors, it seems, and it is like being followed around by a particularly clueless flock of ducklings. (Actually, about half of the Basic veterans seem like they're swimming tolerably well on their own, even if they tend to wobble a bit more than the others, which makes me feel good. The other half, however, are doing the freshman-English equivalent of trying to swim upside down and getting duckweed wrapped around their necks.)

But! The other three classes are a delight, and this includes Basic. I have only five students, and two of them flunked for nonattendance / missing assignments last semester and do not seem to have learned anything from the experience. So in practical terms, I think I'm going to end up with three. In the fall there were 21, and I had no time to give any of them the kind of help they needed. I think I actually like teaching remedial comp when I have only a handful of students. It's different in kind, not just degree, and it becomes much more about mentoring these students and rooting for them and much less about crowd control. I have more patience. And more creativity.

In Brit Lit II, I have eleven students on the class rolls (down from 26 in the fall). Ten, really, since one of then never showed up. And they are a delightful, talkative bunch (and mostly pretty insightful in the stuff they say). I don't understand why it is that you get dead silence when you throw a question out to a class of 26, and everyone talking at once when you have a class of 10, but I'm not gonna question it.

The Shakespeare class feels similarly charged, and even more on the ball in terms of saying smart stuff. Fifteen in that class, including one totally fabulous auditor. Freshman comp is my big class, with an enrollment of eighteen.

I am loving this so much (and feeling a bit guilty for loving it, because I know it's not sustainable and maybe not good news for my long-term survival in this job). But it's how education should be, God knows, and I'm so glad that for right now, this semester, it is.


melanie said...

this is an awesome blog - so glad i found it :)

R said...

I think it's the whole crowd psychology thing--like how people in a pack will all walk past the person bleeding on the sidewalk since they think someone else will help. There's always someone else to answer in a big section...

I envy you the small classes--my great books sections are way too big. The best section of that class I ever taught had 10 students in it. I did manage to scare a number of people away from another course by including a service-learning component, however. Ha.