Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Shmedagogy, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to BES's Thesis

So earlier today I bemoaned the fact that I've become that professor - the professor who does shit to fill time, shit that involves watching movies of books we've read and stuff on youtube - but what seems apparent from the "experiments" (if you can call them that) of the past couple of days is that both have pedagogical value. I'm not saying I really believe in doing this shit as a rule, but in both cases these were really valuable in terms of bringing the material to my students. As opposed to just giving me time that I needed, although both things did that, ultimately. In other words, maybe I really do need to be less hard on myself, as even when I think I'm slacking, I come up with things that are really worth doing for the students. A. said tonight that she wishes she had teachers like me when she was in college. I replied, "I know I'm supposed to be modest here, but so do I!"

I really am a great teacher. I didn't come to academia caring all that much about teaching, but seriously: teaching is the thing that I'm most proud of. The fact that I didn't come to academia for teaching is part of why I beat myself up for trying things like the short-cuts of this week, but it's also why my short-cuts are also totally awesome - because I really don't take teaching for granted as "the thing I do" or "the thing I'm best at." Even when I am short-cutting, I do it with thought. This week, I think that worked out in really positive ways. In ways I think I might even incorporate in future, regardless of the biases that I hold near and dear. Dude, sometimes teaching the movie makes absolutely perfect sense. And sometimes having students watch a theorist on youtube is a really great idea. I'm glad I learned that.

And the bonus is that I've got one stack of overdue tests graded. Life is good.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to BES's Thesis

So you all know that BES is determined to go to graduate school. This has caused me no end of internal pain, as I've feared that she was dead set on my field, one of the most competitive in the whole world when it comes to jobs. Now, BES is awesome and there is no way that I wouldn't support her in her grad school ambitions. But have I wanted - for some time - to advise her away from my field? Uh, yeah! But how to do that when she's writing a thesis with me? How to do that when she's been so passionate about the things about which I'm most passionate? So we had a meeting today about the Thesis That Will Never Be Finished (though of course it will, though for me it feels like a lifetime will go by before she'll get there). We talked about the thesis, we talked about grad school applications (she'll apply next year), and we talked about the advice that she got from Most Awesome Colleague Who Was My Mentor Toward Tenure and Who Is Fabulous and what he said to her about the whole shebang, as well as about Other Colleague Whom I Love with a Love that Is Pure and True who will be her other recommender. Here's the thing: we (my fabulous colleagues and I), in attempting to advise BES, in ways that are supportive of her "passion," have been stupidly advising her against what she really wants to do and against what she'd really be most happy doing (I think).

See, here's the thing. One book that "changed her life" is the book that is featured in the first chapter of my book. Another book that "made her see everything differently" is featured in another chapter of my book, and is a book that she is using in her thesis. All roads would point to her specializing in my specialization, right? That's why Other Colleague directed her to me for her thesis. Except she really thinks that she wants to do American literature. And she really wants to love the two aforementioned books - as well as the others that I work on - with a love that is pure and true, and not with a love that is compromised by criticism. And except she is sick of the things in my wheeelhouse and hates that she's "ruined" things she once loved and that meant so much to her with the criticism. So she (following our advice) thought she should emphasize literature of my period, except American. Except. She doesn't really care about American literature of my historical wheelhouse. And (as I told her today) that's actually a worse choice than my field, as far as job prospects.

And so then we had "the talk." She actually loves American lit of the century before. Like really. She's just not in love with it. It was at this moment that I realized that I didn't choose the thing that I was in love with as my field of specialization. I mean, I knew it before, but I never knew it in the present tense so viscerally. See, the literature that I most love - uncritically? It's so not what I work on. I read Jane Eyre like it's the best book in the world, but I'm not a critic of it. Even having taught it - in like an intro class or a survey class. Sure, I've read some criticism, but I love that book - I don't interrogate it. And that's because at a certain point I realized I never wanted to be a critic of it. I thought that really interrogating it and living with it as a critic would ruin it for me.

BES feels that way about the stuff in my field. For real. And so if she's going to do grad school? She so needs not to do my thing - not because it's a bad market in that field but because she'll be miserable if she does.

And today? When I told her that my field was not her field? On her face? In her heart? Relief, total relief. She was totally excited to be given permission to think that what I do is not what she really does or has to do.

BES is awesome. But she's no mini-me. She's her own lady, for real. As much as I've shaped her ideas, and influenced her approaches to texts, she doesn't want to do what I do, and that is cool. It is so not about me, and not about me replicating myself. And she thanked me for showing her that she didn't want to spend her life on Thesis Author. And I loved that, because seriously, I love her. I want her to do what she should d0 - I don't want to replicate myself.


So those are my things tonight. BES is awesome, and so is my Shmedagogy :)


kenandbelly said...

I totally get what you mean about loving Jane Eyre in particular. I actually named my firstborn Jayne Erynn.

Lit critics on youtube is a great idea-- shows the students that critics are real people, too.

Unknown said...

Exactly. I got my PhD in a totally other discipline because I did not want to have to spend my life dissecting the books that I loved most. I'm sure I'm a happier scholar for it.

jennyfields said...

So you're one of those English people who LURVES Jane Eyre. I read a prof somewhere who said that when they ask their grad-lets what they'd do a thesis on if they could do it on anything in the world, and it was most often Jane Eyre. Ultimately, at some point in all my English classes, the whole class has the before the prof gets there discussion on who likes the Brontes or Austen and who doesn't (or who likes Wuthering Heights vs Jane Eyre).

I dislike most sentimental literature. I know it has quality, I just dislike it. Among the other female majors, I get the evil eye for it (though I will give a vote of confidence on Wuthering Heights but only on condition of accompanying gender theory).

I love the the dark, scary, confusing, hopeless American Modernist stuff. The criticism has made it so much better! Maybe I'll get to do what I love because it's already kind of "ruined" to begin with. However, finishing this thesis, I utilized the American and European sentimentalist novel traditions more than I ever thought.