If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Sunday, January 25, 2009

First Classes

Last week was the first week of classes at my school. Tomorrow starts Week 2 and everyone is supposed to be in the groove already. The first week is filled with greeting people you haven't seen, asking how everyone's break was, and declaring yourself completely unready to teach. First classes are about reviewing the syllabus, making sure everyone is on the same page, and giving some kind of intro to your topic. First weeks are easy. Week 2 means actually doing the work.

I like first classes. I like the first several classes actually because to me they are mostly about forming a group. I'm teaching two classes this semester and one class covers a lot of controversial topics and challenges students' deep-seated beliefs and identities. I need them to reach a level of trust and comfort in me and in each other in order for the class to be successful. Luckily, as it is an elective, most students come really wanting to take the class. However it also draws students from all over the institution and from a diverse set of academic disciplines. This is both good and bad. Mostly good I think because it means they have a lot to teach each other.

My other class is very small with only 5 students. Both classes are graduate level and the first one has a mix of master and doctoral level students but the second class is all doctoral students and 4 of the 5 are in my program. They know each other well and already have a complex history. All of the students know me fairly well, with three of them having been in a class with me before and two are currently conducting research with me. This class is a required course and it is an area most people think of as a chore. This group particularly is not enamored with the subject matter. But I love teaching it because I am a nerd and it is a very nerdy topic. So for this class I don't need to build a group as much as turn them on to the subject. Share the love.

I've also been hearing that I'm considered a hard grader. One former student told me that she warned her friend not to take my class if she wasn't ready to write and do a lot of work. She said that I may smile a lot and be friendly but when it came to the work I was serious about it. I was rather pleased to hear that because I like to be friendly and smile and have fun with my students but the work means a lot to me. I work hard--at teaching and at scholarship--and I expect my students to do the same. I like working hard and I like challenges. I often have to tell my students that struggling is a good thing and if they're having a hard time in the class it means they're doing it right.

1 comment:

Julie said...

I'm a nerd, too! Ha! Ha!

Yes, you're doing the right thing if your students say you are nice but a hard grader. I used to actually dislike the "easy" teachers. I felt like I was getting ripped off and didn't have much respect for them.

One of my favorite teachers of all time was a lot like you. She was so nice, easy to talk to, and went above and beyond for her students. But she made me work for my A!! I was stunned the first time I turned in a paper, and she made me do it over. She was right.

I was sort of a "pet" of the other teachers in the department, and I knew what tricks I could pull with them. But this teacher wouldn't let me get away with any laziness or BS. She was awesome.

I think many of your students will look back and appreciate you. They are very lucky to have you.