Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Rambling Post

I think I have to accept the fact that I just can't do work on Wednesdays or Thursdays when I come home. I'd had all these high-falutin' notions about finishing the *final* editing on the Never-Ending Article, as well as doing some other things, but man. It just wasn't possible tonight.

That said, I have accomplished a great deal over the past couple of days, including:
  • Teaching and grading.
  • Obsessively checked the preregistration enrollment in my summer and fall courses.
  • Realizing that my summer courses are likely to go, figured out the course schedules for both.
  • Accomplished a bunch of stuff for the admin gig.
  • Met with some students.
  • Did some busy-work stuff related to to the Never-Ending Article.
  • Realized I've got some more book stuff to take care of after a second wild (and yet truly enjoyable) phone conversation with a person who shall remain nameless.
  • Attended a department event.
In other words, dude, it's totally ok that I blew off work last night and tonight. Tomorrow, I'll start fresh in the AM. My aim is still to get the article sent off tomorrow. I'm hopeful.

But so anyway, I've been mainly focused on teaching lately, although that's not necessarily apparent from what I've been posting here. It's really closing in on the end of the semester, and that means the usual activities of manic prep and grading, talking students off of ledges, and looking forward to the end, but the end that won't really be the end for me this semester since I'm teaching in the summer. In order to talk about the decision to teach in the summer, I need to talk about this semester first.

As you all know, I've technically got a 4/4 load. Now, unaccountably since starting this blog, I've not taught four classes in a semester. It's like the blog name was a kind of good luck charm in that regard, although I'll note that I've had to pay for those course releases with other kinds of work. No free rides for me. But so in Spring 2006 I got a course release to complete a journal article; I got course releases in Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 for doing some admin work (and in that time also churned out another article, got the book proposal out and got the book contract, organized an MLA panel and co-edited a small journal issue, which all were the real reason why I thought it would be good to take on the admin position that would offer me reassigned time because I was naive and didn't realize how much work I'd have to do for the admin thing), and in Fall 2007 I got a course release to finish the book manuscript. This semester, I thought I'd be teaching four courses, but at the last minute I was offered another admin thing that actually got me two course releases this semester. But so this windfall meant that for the first time I considered summer teaching, which will enable the paying off credit card debt goal that I've made for myself this year (summer teaching pays very well in these parts). I figured that with the lighter teaching load this semester, that summer teaching would not be such a terrible burden. And it is true that I'm not as burnt out as I normally would be at the end of a semester.

But that has everything to do with the classes that I'm teaching and less to do with the course releases, I think. For the first semester in my teaching life, I am not teaching composition. Hallelujah! Now, I know that I've got a lot of readers who specialize in comp/rhet, and what follows is in no way meant to offend, but I've got to say, I'm a better teacher of writing when I'm not teaching composition. My problems with teaching comp don't have to do with my commitment to teaching writing: they have to do with my utter abhorrence of teaching writing in a context that doesn't have to do with my discipline and my expertise and the fact that most students who take comp classes utterly resent (if not outright hate) having to take them. And I suppose the problem is that I resent teaching composition - in no small part because when I encounter students that I've taught in comp in subsequent semesters, it never fails that I need to re-teach them how to write, even if they'd come a long way in the previous course. They don't, as far as I can tell, internalize what they learn in comp. In contrast, when I focus on teaching writing in my literature classes (which I've begun doing more in the past three semesters) those students who come back for more really have internalized what I taught the in the previous course about writing. And I think it's because that writing instruction was less rooted in me walking them through every step - it was more independent - and because it was connected to material that they were into studying. The point in my lit classes is not the writing but rather their ability to express their ideas and their mastery of concepts and texts in the writing. Perhaps it should be that in composition courses as well and I just suck at making those connections within the confines of the composition classroom. That's entirely possible. But all of this is to say that, for me, teaching comp is incredibly draining. It's time consuming; I dread the grading; I dread the whole shebang. Not an ideal teaching situation, and a recipe for burnout, yeah?

Now this semester, there is no comp. None. And actually there wouldn't have been even without the course releases. And I am totally energized with teaching students to write and with grading student writing! And they notice! I've also incorporated a lot more writing instruction into both of my lit classes that I am teaching, even though they are upper-level classes, and it's paying off! In the course of this week, students have noted that they've never had to work so hard for an A from a professor and then in the next breath say that they've also never learned so much in a course. Any course. I've had students note that for the first time they realize that the whole point of writing papers is that they are supposed to be conveying their own ideas - that it's not just about recounting what other people think. And students are clamoring for appointments to meet with me so that they can do the best paper possible - not because I require them to meet with me but because they're totally excited to do the work. They're excited to think in writing. I even had a student thank me for encouraging her to write about what she found most interesting (but was more difficult) rather than to write (on an equally viable topic) about what would "work" for the assignment (and be "easy"). That's what teaching writing is supposed to be about.

And ultimately, that is so intrinsic to what I think teaching literature is, too. And they are all learning so much! They're like different people from who they were at the beginning of the semester! And they know that they're learning! It's not just me seeing it!

But so yeah, so I thought teaching summer wouldn't be a bad idea before all of that came to pass just because of the lighter teaching this spring, but given all of the above, I'm actually looking forward to teaching in the summer. I'm teaching one section of my absolute favorite class (which I'll need to post about more specifically, for it's not a course solidly in my specialization but rather a course that fills general studies requirements) and what had formerly been my absolute favorite class (another general studies one, actually - so perhaps I'm in no way suited for a research university because the teaching I love most is actually not highly specialized teaching). I'm teaching the two courses in the evening, so even though my break won't start until July because of the summer teaching, every day will be free. I think this will be a good set-up.

In other news, scheduling for fall has begun, and I'm wicked-excited about the coming teaching there as well. As I think I might have noted, I've worked it out so that I've got a T/W/H schedule for the next two years (even with the 4/4, should my run of course releases come to an end). I've managed this because I've developed an online course and because I've committed to teaching one evening class. It should be cool. At any rate, in the fall I'm teaching Notoriously Difficult Novels Class (in which students are enrolling at the speed of light, and because I'm a petty and vindictive person, I can't help but note that this is not the case for a colleague's course that meets at the same time), Favorite Class, the survey, and the online course. The only course that's slow to grab students is the online one, but that has everything to do with certain administrative things, so I'm not worried (yet).

But so yeah, the bulk of my time actually hasn't been spent on research this semester at all. It's been spent on teaching stuff - including building the online course for fall - and on the administrative thing. You wouldn't know that from the blog necessarily, but yep, that's actually where my head is at. Which may be why that article isn't done :)


VirtualProf said...

sounds like exciting times coming up. Have you taught an online yet? You'll a completely new set of issues with students and with figuring out how much time you need to spend in the class. Be careful not to let it consume all your extra time! Drop me a line sometime for some insights into how to streamline the online teaching so it doesn't eat up all your time. You should be able to manage one online class in three hours a week plus grading time, which is what you'd do in a class on campus. (maybe less time than that some weeks depending on how you structure the assignments). Glad things are working out for summer and fall!! Hope you're able to finish the article as planned today. I don't seem to be able finish what I plan each day either -- not even writing on my blog lately! Have a great weekend!

ce4460 said...

I think it cool when you can see a real difference in students. That isn't always the case. You must be doing some good work with them.

life_of_a_fool said...

So, this isn't the point of your post, but still: a single course release off a 4-4 load just does not seem like enough to write a book, or even finish the manuscript!! (then again, it would be nice to get a release to finish a journal article. . .)

I'm glad you're seeing successes in your classes, and are energized for summer teaching. It's all I can do to drag myself to teach in the summer, especially at the beginning.