For those of you who don’t know, I quit a decent-paying but utterly soul-draining job a year ago to teach full time at the local university. I had taught night classes for years and finally took the plunge to work as an adjunct instructor. Next week begins the mad dash to the starting lineup that is the fall semester. I’ve been knee-deep, no, nearly waist-deep in educational and quasi-educational tasks this week. Course list? Check. Textbooks? Check. Paper cuts? Check. School supplies? Check. Next week will be worse. My reading time slows to nil right before the semester starts. Actually, let me amend that – my free reading time slows. My academic reading/re-reading/prep reading kicks into full gear.
As an adjunct, I face a number of difficulties: Will my schedule change again? Will any more of my classes get handed to full-time folks? Can I make it between two campuses roughly 35 minutes apart? When will I eat? How will I pay bills if they cut any more classes? Dang, do I really have to pay $56 for a desk copy? And most importantly, where can I find a school bag, not a backpack, that isn’t hideous and with enough pockets for my anal-retentive tendencies? I know, I know. Please don’t virtually slap me.
Well, ok, those are my worries, i.e. concerning me. There are others as well: How can I best interact with these students? Do I use tech? If so, to what extent? Do I create online discussion forums for them? Do I then need to police them? How should I best set the tone of the course? What should I change to reach more students? Should I stand on my head in order to make them notice that hey – I’m up here doing my darndest to get your attention?
Let’s not mince words. I teach freshman and sophomore English classes. Entry-level composition. Students don’t like it. I hope I’ve made it a less painful process for many of them, but that’s only part of my job. I aim to make it applicable, engaging, and enticing as much as possible. There’s still a heck of a lot of stuff to toss at them. Giving each semester an overall arc seems to help; if there is a main focus to the course, it helps me and them. And I do my work – don’t doubt it. My current reading material is Background Readings for Teachers of American Literature by Venetria K. Patton. While I love history, this is not exactly bedtime reading. However, I’ve also got Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates playing in the car. She’s the only person I’ve ever found who can make the Puritans and Pilgrims sound like MTV’s The Real World (the only reality TV show I’ve ever watched). I’ve taught American Literature twice before, but you’d be amazed how quickly the mind forgets. Apparently, my note-taking skills aren’t quite up to par. Notes such as “went from a society based on class to a society based on survival and dependence on one another” are all fine and good but aren’t really what I need. Note to self: enough with the shorthand!
Teaching has changed a lot, and teaching hasn’t changed a lot. An #engchat Twitter conversation yesterday was pretty indicative of that. Some people push teaching composition in modes (argumentation, compare/contrast, cause/effect); others prefer to teach genre and explain modes through that. One particular tweeter/twit/bird (?) kept harping on “community, community” but never really explained what the community was supposed to do. Some require class blogs; others use wikis. There is so much out there, and I feel if I don’t utilize it, I’m cheating my students. Then I tell myself that when I was in school, we didn’t have all that, and I still turned out ok. A good educator is a good educator.
My English teachers in high school were unbelievable, but my all-time favorite was Mrs. Richter. Her class wasn’t simple – far from it. She challenged all of us, but she also treated us as individuals, not just silly 17-year-olds, which we were. I remember I thought one of the coolest things about her was that she played soft music during tests. I hate silence, and that bit of noise was much appreciated. More than that, though, she wasn’t afraid to venture outside her discipline. If she thought a work of art or a piece of music could get the job done, she used it. She is one of the reasons I teach today, and she is the reason I try, always, to test the waters with something new.
My question to you, then, is this: What were your most memorable courses/teachers? What made them/he/she memorable? What approaches in the classroom had an effect on you? Be specific. I want to know. Don’t worry, your answers won’t be graded.