Thursday, June 04, 2009

Summer Teaching: Just What the Doctor Ordered?

I've just finished my first week of my eight weeks of summer teaching. Now, I've been feeling quite cranky about having to teach, just in a general sort of a way, but let me tell you: I think that this is actually a good thing for my psyche right now.

See, I felt so out of sorts all spring. My classes weren't the worst I've ever taught (well, at least 2 of the 4 were ok), but I really did not have my usual teaching mojo. Really, this spring I didn't have much mojo at all, if we're going to be real about it. But these classes I'm teaching right now? Off to an excellent start. One class is more... outgoing... than the other so far, but this may have to do with the material more than it has to do with the potential. Whatever the case, I know how to get students actively engaged, so I'm not worried even about the second group. No. I really have this.

It helps that both of these classes are gen eds that I could teach in my sleep. There is something about teaching classes that require no prep that makes teaching truly, truly joyous. I just walk in, open my book, and voila! I teach! It's all there in my brain! I don't even need notes! Or what notes I need are in the book! I don't need to think about the material - I just need to respond to the students and to the vibe in the classroom, and the time just flies by.

And you know, that's what I think good teaching really should be, ultimately. It really should be me without a precise agenda just working the room. Or, perhaps, more precisely: yes, I've got an agenda, but it's so ingrained that it is subordinate to what is happening in the class in the moment, and subordinate to what students have to say. It still gets accomplished, but I don't need to be so heavy-handed. I don't need to hammer my agenda home - it's just there in the background happening.

But so anyway, in spite of the fact that I do resent teaching in the summer - and I do, even though I'm doing it with a purpose and I have chosen it - I think that perhaps teaching this summer is really helping me to get my confidence back after what was a pretty awful spring. It's easier to be a good teacher when I've got none of the other commitments of my job breathing down my neck. It's easier to think about my teaching when I can focus on it almost completely for discrete periods of time. So as much as I resent that I don't have this summer off, I also kind of think it's a good thing.

That said, I need to write for the next two days solidly to get on track with my other goals for the month. And I need to start thinking in earnest about my fall classes, about the conference I'm in the beginning stages of planning, and I need to get on coming up with my sabbatical application project. The idea is, I'm going to get all of these things ironed out (in a fashion) by the time that summer teaching is done, so that when I'm done with July, I'm totally free for about three weeks of leisure. I need the three weeks of leisure, and I need to remember that those are there waiting for me if I get things done now.

So that's the latest in the World of Crazy.


Flavia said...

I'm teaching a summer-session class for the first time, and though I'm only teaching one class for five weeks (and just two longish days a week), I'm feeling exactly the same way. There's zero prep--just works I really like and that I know backwards and forwards and am introducing to students who are both eager and pretty chilled out themselves.

Maybe I got an unusually great batch of students, but I think maybe it's the summer-y-ness of it. I mean, I'm doing it for the $$, but so far it's a easy pleasure too.

Shaun Huston said...

I was set to teach two classes this summer, something I have not done in like six or seven years, but ended up pulling one section and having the other canceled, both due to low enrollment. I made the original decision to teach so that I could earn some extra money to help underwrite an upcoming sabbatical, but I can't say that I'm entirely sad that the classes are gone. I have plenty else to do, and the Oregon University System is on quarters, meaning that summer would by fourth turnaround this year, and Spring already kicks my ass as it is. Still, I do have a vision in my head of a fun, field-oriented experience in some class someday during the summer. We'll see.

Doctor Pion said...

You could be describing my summer class. I also teach a gen ed class that requires zero prep on content, so I only have to worry about exams and developing new insights into how to get them to connect to the material.

I can really relate to your remark that this is how good teaching really should be. I always viewed this gen-ed class as a break that allowed me to decompress from teaching much harder classes, but perhaps it also allowed me to see how a class can work when I don't need notes for anything.

It probably also sends the message that this ain't amateur hour, kids. You have the real deal up wandering the aisles of the classroom. Is that how they react to you?