Monday, July 28, 2008

I LOVE the Beowulf movie!

... even though I've never seen it. Why? It is an AWESOME trap for students who haven't done the reading.

Heh heh heh. I wish people would make bad movies about everything I teach. I'm not quite sure what this says about me.

Final presentations today. Apart from the student who talked about how Beowulf fails to kill Grendel's mother because she seduces him, they were all decent, some much better than decent. This is the third time I've used this presentation assignment -- basically, "tell your classmates about your final paper, bring questions for the class and note places where you'd like some help, and we'll have a nice, relaxed conversation about it" -- and it has gone over brilliantly every time. I'm not sure it actually makes for better papers (sometimes I think nothing results in better papers, ever), but it does get them talking to each other rather than through me, and generally they are interested in what their classmates have to say. Sometimes it's even hard for me to get a word in edgewise, which I thought would NEVER happen with this group.

I wish it were possible to do this in the standard Norton Anthology of Brit Lit I survey class, but there is just TOO MUCH to read. (I have made the painful decision that we're not reading any Malory next semester. I adore Malory, but it's just not possible to do him justice in the survey. We might skip Sidney, too. This was a much less painful decision.)

I can't believe I'm already thinking about the next semester of classes before this one wraps up, but of course it's only a two-week break. Help.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dust Bunny Sanctuary

Back in New SLAC Town to get moved out. The landlord is coming in a couple of hours, so I really do need to finish up cleaning the place, as well as packing everything the movers didn't take with them.

My God, I suck at housekeeping. This place should have a "Dust Bunny Sanctuary" sign on it.

It's strange being here again. It's just about the time when I arrived last year, when I thought this might well be Home For Life. Now I know it is just a temporary place. I haven't had all that many temporary places in my life, apart from Spanish City where I spent a scary and glorious semester as a wide-eyed nineteen-year-old, and English City, where I spent a summer shacked up with my long-distance boyfriend. I have been back to Spanish City, and probably will be back to English City, which is a major tourist spot; I don't think I will ever have any occasion to visit New SLAC Town again. And yet, for ten months or so, it was home.

Leaving temporary places is always a wrench. I walked across the campus on Friday; the summer stillness lay heavy upon it, and no one was there. Perhaps that's as well. It wasn't a talking-to-people sort of walk.

New faculty orientation is on August 7th, which is TOO SOON. Eeee!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Fret's Awesome Weekend o' Sleep Deprivation

Back from a three-day trip to see Grad School Trivia Buddy married off. It was quite awesome and fabulous and resulted in my teaching Dante this afternoon on next to no sleep (the class, fortunately, went better than it really had a right to do).

The Beloved Alma Mater is roughly on the way to GSTB's home town, so I spent a couple of hours wandering around campus. The last time I was there was in February, about a year and a half ago; I remember wandering around the English building, getting all sentimental about the chipping paint on the stair railings and feeling like nothing had changed, until I happened to glance into a classroom. Five rows of students, all tap-tap-tapping on their laptops. You can't go home again.

The classrooms are empty in the summer. I stood, for a moment, at the front of Room 215, scene of a conversation with Freshman Shakespeare Prof (by then Sophomore Epic & Romance Prof) that may have changed my life. He wandered into class five minutes late, explaining that he'd just been teaching American Lit, and asked (rhetorically, I'm sure) how you could get from The Scarlet Letter to the Odyssey in ten minutes. And since I was the sort of irritating student who answered rhetorical questions, I thought of a way, and shyly sidled up after class to tell him about it. We talked. He asked if I'd ever considered grad school. Click.

I glanced at FSP's old office, empty now that he's in phased retirement. No books on the shelves; no ancient Doonesbury cartoons about grade inflation on the door. It seemed drained of personality.

The Medievalist wasn't around either, although his office -- in one of the outbuildings on the oldest part of the campus -- looked reassuringly occupied. For a long glorious autumn in my senior year, his Early Celtic Literature class met on a patch of grass in front of the office; I think of him whenever I hold class outdoors. I left a note. We haven't talked since MLA 2005, and I'm feeling like that's too long.

And so, back on the road.

Grad School Trivia Buddy gave terrific and exhausting parties even when we were impoverished grad students, so it didn't surprise me that she and her family pulled out all the stops for her wedding. I count five parties in slightly over forty-eight hours, not counting the wedding itself. Whew. (How AWESOME is it that they had a pig-pickin' for the reception? I have been jonesing for good barbecue since I don't know when. Mmm, pig.) Somewhere in between all that we even got in a wee-hours-of-the-morning trivia game, which I won, although it was hard-fought indeed.

I miss grad school. I didn't think I was going to miss it that much, because it took me way too long to finish, and by then I was a little sick of feeling like I was waiting for my life to start, and besides, most of my friends had scattered across the country. I guess what I really miss is having a steady group of friends who were up for late nights of drinking and intensely competitive board gaming, which just doesn't seem to happen as much in the world of Grown-Up Faculty. Or maybe it does, and I just haven't met the right people yet. But anyway, it was great to see these people, even if they keep doing crazy things like getting married, and having babies. (The other thing I discovered over the weekend is that while babies and toddlers are very cute, I'm really rather glad that all of them belong to somebody else. It generally takes me about thirty minutes in their presence to go from "ooh, I want a baby" to "ick, that is a lot of spit.")

How was everyone else's weekend?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lecture Guilt

The summer class is starting to settle into a rhythm. In-class writing, giving background on the reading, pointing out highlights of the reading, occasional interludes of period music or art, break, pointing out more interesting stuff about the reading, handing back the in-class writings and telling the students about all the smart insightful stuff the other students said, the occasional YouTube clip (here, have some animated Sir Gawain!), background about the next set of readings.

What's missing? Oh, yeah. They don't talk. Well, two of them talk, but one of them has four young children and has to be absent a fair bit of the time (all for bona fide emergencies, so I don't want to dock points), and it's pretty hard to carry on a discussion with one student and the instructor. I've called on some of the others out of the blue when I know for sure they have something to say, but I dislike putting students on the spot -- it's worse than useless if the student doesn't have something to say, and I cherish the illusion that class discussion ought to be free and voluntary. Paired or small-group activities have sometimes worked and sometimes flopped spectacularly. So I end up lecturing a lot.

I feel guilty about this. I'm not sure whether I ought to feel guilty. I mean yeah, I believe in the Virtues of Active Learning and all that jazz, but I also believe in Engaging Different Learning Styles and Responding to the Needs of Individual Students and Classes, and maybe this class has decided that their preferred learning style is listening quietly. Maybe there's nothing wrong with that. Then again, maybe there is -- we're here to teach skills, after all, not just content, and it's hard to learn these skills without using them. Then again, maybe there isn't; they do write in class, every class, so it's not like they're starved for a chance to do literary analysis in practice. And some students, apparently, like lecture and think they learn most effectively from it, to the point of asking for more of it on the course evals; who am I to tell them they are wrong?

Behind it all is a stubborn conviction that I must be doing something wrong if people don't want to talk -- because when I didn't want to talk, it was nearly always a sign that the professor was doing something wrong. This, of course, is silly, since they're not me; some are from cultures (or majors) where silence and deference are the rule, some are just shy. Still. I keep thinking about my least favorite professors in college: the one who never did anything but summarize the readings; the one who looked up at the class every now and then with a bone-dry "Would ... anybody ... care ... to ... comment ... on ... that?" (of course, nobody ever did); the one who asked the class to vote on whether they preferred lecture or discussion on the first day, but who really only welcomed comments when they allowed him to make the point that he knew everything about the topic and we knew nothing. I hope I'm not falling into one or more of those traps.

Anyway. Lecture Guilt. Excuse me, I must find some pretty pictures and music to illustrate tomorrow's lecture.