Monday, June 16, 2008

Teaching Malaise

You know, my classes this summer term are going well. I really don't have a thing in the world about which I have a right to complain. I admit this up front, as I don't want to give the impression that any complaints that will follow are actually legitimate. They are not.

But, well, the thing about summer teaching is that everybody - students, me - is done. Students take these courses in order to finish more quickly or because they're hoping for an easier version of something that in the regular semester would give them trouble. Faculty teach them because they want cold hard cash. In other words, nobody's primary agenda is the whole "learning" thing. Now, in my one section, the students are learning a ton, and it's really been quite awesome (and unexpected). In the other course I'm teaching, though, I can't help but feel disappointed. It's not that they're not doing the work - they are - or that they're not engaged - they are. But. This course is one that I teach during the regular semester - every semester now - and the vibe over 16 weeks is just so much different and I totally miss that vibe. Again, it's not about level of engagement or about anything that they're not doing. In some ways, they're doing more than students in previous sections of the same course have done. It's about the fact that in the full semester, they've got a lot more time to process, something from which I think this particular course really does benefit. It doesn't really make the grades any different, but it does make the experience different - for them and for me. And the fact that they're not processing in the same way - in spite of my effort to accept them as they are and whatnot - really does disappoint and discourage me. And this is not my best mode as a teacher.

See, here's the thing: when I'm disappointed and discouraged, I kind of suck. This is one reason why I've done everything in my power to end my days of teaching comp. Comp makes me disappointed and discouraged. It's not that I don't do a good job of teaching it - I really do, according to evaluations and according to colleagues across the university who've had my students after they've taken comp with me - but I actively loathe the whole idea of doing it, which makes it suck in its own special way. This is not unlike how when I was in school I could do the work of an algebra class, but because I wasn't into it I couldn't fully commit to really learning in a real way. In other words, I lack the ability to really push myself when I'm not totally into something. I'm really good at feigning enthusiasm, but the whole "feigning" part makes me really depressed. And the thing that sucks mightily about the one course that I'm teaching is that I see that they aren't processing in the way that really excites me, and then this makes me not want to teach (or to grade, or to prep, or to do any of the things that make my teaching good.)

I forgot my book today and I didn't even care. I just taught and didn't give a shit that I didn't actually have the text in front of me. This isn't a good sign. No, indeed it is not.

Now, the other class is not disheartening in this way. In fact, it is like this glorious pleasant surprise where nobody - not them, not me - had anticipated liking anything about it, and yet we're all wicked engaged and into it. So that's great. And yet, I'm tired. And they're tired. And that, in and of itself, detracts from what can happen in there. Now, I'm probably going to teach summer school for the next couple or three summers. It's the whole "cold hard cash" thing, that really is alluring. But after doing it this time, for the first time, I'm really thinking that I think the whole concept of summer classes is wack. I think people need time to rejuvenate, and I think that probably the whole summer school thing actually gets in the way of what students have the potential to learn. I know that there is no likelihood that such a schedule will be abolished - there are good reasons for it - but I don't think it's actually positive in terms of education. Yep, that's what I think.

So I'm really looking forward to being done after next week. And I suspect my students are as well. Thank god we've only got this week and next to slog through.

In other news, it's still Kitten Central over here. And I've got a couple of pictures for you.

First, I managed to take a picture of the forced bathing of the wee Mr. Stripey. The thing that's hilarious is that Mr. Stripey seems to think that it's the Man-Kitty's job to bathe him. Sure, he'll periodically do some self-maintenance, but when he wants to get really clean, he'll just annoy Man-Kitty until the Man-Kitty does something about it. You will be happy that I didn't actually get a picture of the M-K taking care of the wee one's bottom, which is really kind of gross. And for those who wondered at my use of the adjective "maternal," well, all I can say is that the Man-Kitty refuses to be gendered masculine. He's a very enlightened kitty :)
You will also notice that there is a Glorious Shoelace in the above picture. Now, as I noted long ago, the Man-Kitty loves him a shoelace. My dream was that the two of them would find a way to love a shoelace together. This dream, my friends, is a reality.

It's like a game of tug-of-war, though with CATS. I can't tell you how entertained I am by this (and also how awesome it is that I am no longer central to shoelace play).


negativecapability said...

aw, my big fluffy licks my little stripeys head every night at 9pm. Maybe cats with glorious tails are meant to be maternal?

Anastasia said...

don't tell man-kitty but Kizzy's love for small kittens means her interest in mr. stripey has quickly outpaced her former fascination with the kitty man.

Dr. Bad Ass said...

For some reason, I think that the bathing thing is a sign of dominance. Did I read that somewhere? Can't remember. But I know that Loner (dominant male) bathes Marty (super-hairy and scared-for-her-life female) all the time. And he's got the hairballs to prove it!

k8 said...

About summer school - I've always loved it. But then, I learn best in short, fast, concentrated bursts. When I can concentrate on fewer subjects in a concentrated amount of time, I thrive. I guess it is a matter of learning differences, to some degree. I see other people stressed about the pace of summer courses, but then I'm normally ready to move on 3/4 through a regular semester.

Funny what you said about teaching comp. I'm in comp/rhet, and the one year I TA'd for literature classes, I couldn't wait to get back to comp because I realized just how much I was a comp/rhet person.

Dr. Crazy said...

I've read both that it's a sign of dominance and also that it's just pride behavior. If it's about dominance, then I'm clearly lowest on the totem pole, for the kitten has taken to bathing me :) If it's about social behavior, then I think we're all cats together in the Crazy household :)

Belle said...

I can so relate to your gripes (not bitches) re: summer classes. Very much there with you Crazy!

And I'm so happy with the Stripey/M-K dynamics stories. Love 'em. And the pictures. Somebody famous once said 'one cat just leads to another' and this is a perfect example of why.

The wonder is you ever get anything but kitty-monitoring done!

Karet said...

Man-Kitty's comments make me think of Don Marquis's Archy and Mehitabel books -- do you know them? Marquis had a column in the 1910s, and allowed Mehitabel, a cat who was Cleopatra in a previous life, and her friend Archy, a cockroach, to contribute.

Doctor Pion said...

I must comment to restore some balance back towards teaching!

I really appreciate your comments about processing time and the experience of the class. That puts into words the reason I avoid teaching my main assignment (physics for engineers) in the summer. I would not be happy with the product even if they managed to keep up and deal with 5 credits worth of learning in a very short summer semester.

I think the key to the class I do teach in summer is the intensity of it. It's a terminal gen-ed class, so I only care if they leave with one or two new insights into the physical world and they only care if they pass. Time (and the final exam this week) will tell, but it seems to be working. I think the key for me is to start working on day 1 to make it clear that it will not be easy.

PS -
I'd love to have some rhetorical insight from the MLA side of the universe over on my blog ... where the question today is seeking a better (simpler) way of talking about a "prerequisite course" that at-risk freshmen will grasp.

Anastasia said...

oh oh, I was also going to say at the place I interviewed for adjuncting, they've got an adult education program--which is where I'll teach in the spring--and their courses are all 7 weeks long, even during the year. more convenient for working adults. all except for the literature courses, that is. Those run the full semester because the professor says you can't teach literature quickly. the dean agreed because, well, his degree is in english.

anyway. processing time.

k8 said...

Anastasia - that's interesting about the literature courses. I went to undergrad at a place with a required 4-week May-mester. I took literature courses two of my four years there and I loved the intensity. And we read just as many books as we would have in a 15 week semester (9 or more). As a grad student, I've taken children's and Young Adult literature courses over the summer and read as much as we would for a 15 week course, as well. Most days (4 days a week for 4 weeks) we read a novel a day or the equivalent in smaller texts.

I must be strange, because I loved these types of courses and I feel as if I've retained more knowledge from those short intensive courses than I have from 15 week courses. But again, I like fast processing. For me, it is more engaging.

Dr. Crazy said...

I think a lot with how this will or won't work depends on student population/institutional culture. One of the issues that I'm running into is that students haven't signed up for these courses with an agenda of having an intensive learning experience. Rather, they're all working full time (the classes meet at night) and they're really just trying to make time to degree as short as possible. I've got them reading/writing as much as they would in a regular semester, but without them having as much *thinking* time to reflect, etc., but rather with them just plowing through the assignments... well, it makes a difference. It's better in one course I'm teaching than in the other - the other being a course that meets a diversity gen. ed. requirement that often challenges students' long-held ideas.

In other words, I think it is possible for students to get a lot out of such courses, but at least with the one, I'm not seeing the kind of "aha moments" I'm used to seeing in the course, and that's disheartening.

k8 said...

That's probably true for most people. I have some odd learning difference issues, so I normally keep in mind that what works for me is the opposite of what works for most people. I had to teach myself methods of how to learn because school didn't match my needs.

Working full time while taking summer courses is hard (although I've done it as a grad student). The mental business of work competes with the mental space needed for academic work, regardless of the intensity of the course. It takes an extreme talent for compartmentalizing work from school to do both well in those circumstances.