Tuesday, January 15, 2008

two days down...

Have met all the classes, including the two sections of the Dreaded Two-Hour Comp course. In my experience, there is inevitably a Good Section and an Evil Section (and I'm pretty sure I already know which is which), but I guess that's better than having only an Evil Section, like I did last semester.

Since last semester's comp class felt like a disaster, I've been looking at what I can revamp. (I don't know for sure that it was a disaster; in the final papers, several students said that they had never had a class where they had to write multiple drafts of essays, and claimed to have learned a lot from the experience, and four of them did re-enroll in one of my comp sections this semester, so maybe it was a not-too-awful experience for more of them than I thought. But there were definitely, as they say, Student Engagement Issues, and three people flat-out failed.)

So far, the lessons I've learned seem to be: 1) Pick a theme that is interesting to someone other than the professor (last semester's "So what ARE the liberal arts, and what is college supposed to do for you?" fell resoundingly flat on this front); and 2) front-load the fun stuff early in the semester, so people get into the habit of liking the class, or at least not minding it. (Come to think of it, before this year I always had higher course ratings in first-semester comp courses than second-semester, possibly because the U of Basketball's comp program mandated that the Fun Stuff was front-loaded in the first semester and end-loaded in the second semester. I'm pretty sure that I've just uncovered a General Principle that will make my life easier in the future, assuming that I'm still working in my chosen field in the future.)

On the job search front, life remains uncertain. I made the mistake of Googling the other candidates for the job at New SLAC and reading all about their teaching awards, and now I'm depressed. Have got two other campus interviews, and one of them finally broke the MLA jinx (before this year, I'd had campus interviews with schools that did phone interviews, and with schools that went directly to campus visits with no preliminary round of interviews, but I had never, ever gotten anything but a rejection after an MLA interview, so I'm pleased that at least one search committee has met me face to face and doesn't think I'm totally hopeless). At this point, though, it's all starting to feel like an infinite series of first dates, and I'm not really expecting anything to come of anything. At least you get a free meal or two out of it.

Must prep teaching demo. And pack. See you all when this damn week is over.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

all Shakespeare, all the time

So, in two days' time, I will be teaching my first Shakespeare course. For some reason, this makes me feel like I have officially Arrived as a faculty member, even though I have been teaching Shakespeare in survey courses since 2003. Actually, I felt the same way when I registered for my first semester of college as a bitty little freshporpentine and discovered that I could sign up for an English class that was all Shakespeare, all the time. It sounded like magic.

And it was like magic. It was also completely insane, although I didn't realize this until about twelve years after the fact, when I thought, "Hey, wait a minute, what kind of professor puts Titus Andronicus and Troilus and Cressida and Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra and The Taming of the Shrew all on the reading list for a freshman class? What in the world was he thinking?" We did read some conventional Shakespeare too -- Much Ado, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth -- but it was the weird and challenging stuff that made the biggest impression on me. It made some sort of impression on my fellow students, as well, as evinced by some of the conversations before class:

"So, I just can't figure out what happened in this play. I mean, I got that this guy meets this girl during the Trojan War, and they got married, but then she left him --"

"Wait a minute. Where does it say they got married?"

"Well ... they had sex, didn't they?"

"Believe it or not, that was known to happen back then."

"But this is Shakespeare!"

Ah, the fun of state colleges in the South. I'm pretty sure our professor intended to slaughter sacred cows right and left when he compiled that syllabus, because he likes doing that with those kinds of cows, but that didn't occur to me at the time. All I knew was that this was the first time that anybody had suggested to me that maybe Shakespeare didn't believe in the Divine Right of Kings or the Great Chain of Being, and it was liberating.

I wonder if I'll ever be able to pull off that sort of teaching. Probably not in exactly the same way; I tend to think of it as the old-white-guy-with-a-beard style of teaching, where you can wander in five minutes late, looking as if you had suddenly taken it into your head to teach a class that day, ramble a bit about current events or the books you bought over the weekend, and have it suddenly build to a complex and provocative point. It takes a certain classroom persona, and more importantly, scattered thoughts that are actually interesting; it doesn't always work, even for the old white guys with beards, but I loved it when my undergrad profs could pull it off.

I wonder how this class will go. I probably shouldn't be thinking about my own Shakespeare classes right now at all (two undergrad, two grad, all with very different and very fabulous professors), because it makes me aware of how many shoes there are in the world that I can't possibly fill. But I like remembering the rush of excitement I got in all of those classes, and as scary as Monday is, I'm excited now.

I wonder.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Back to real life...

Temperature in the high sixties today! Whoo! It was too nice to stay indoors, despite being rather overcast, so I went to the zoo and the Awesome Bookstore in New City. Pretty nearly a perfect day.

Real life starts again tomorrow, with a five-hour pre-semester teaching workshop (fortunately, not all five hours are mandatory -- but I figure I'd better show up and look perky). The syllabi are not done, and I have come to the conclusion that I'm completely clueless about one of the classes I'm supposed to be teaching next semester, and have grave doubts about the others.

Needless to say, I have spent less time writing syllabi than playing the geography trivia games at travelpod.com, which are both frustrating and addictive as all hell. (And what's worse, they make me want to grab the backpack and disappear for a month or two, which I can't possibly do until May at the earliest, and then only if I have money and a secure job. Sigh.)

Maybe tomorrow I will feel ready for this.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

impending doom

Does anyone else get filled with unspeakable dread every time they open their university e-mail account these days?