Good to Go


Classes start Tuesday. Yesterday I turned in my syllabi to be copied, so as far as clerical preparations for the first day are concerned, I'm good to go. I've also figured what I'm going to discuss the first day (I've been here too long and have too many repeat students to just read the syllabus for the first 75-minute period) and acquired any necessary materials. I have no clue what's going to happen on Thursday, the second day I teach, but at least the first day is accounted for.

Thought you'd want to know.


Despite being out of school for a while now, and growing up with a schoolteacher mother, I'm still fascinated by the way professors approach teaching. Something, somewhere deep inside me, still says that professors know everything, and are capable of discussing the Faustian aspects of Angel (in German!) at the drop of a hat.

Teacher! teacher! I have a question . . .

heh. Good luck for the new school year. May you get few assholes and many new friends. :)

Congratulations! Here, I do know that the first meetings will be focused on course administration. But the circumstances are pretty different from yours. I also admire your flexibility with regard to the second day. Each of my courses will be new (to me) so I am being much more rigid or controlling -- someone might say anally retentive.

If you doubt that last bit, I'll point out that the first day of classes here is October 2.

Something, somewhere deep inside me, still says that professors know everything, and are capable of discussing the Faustian aspects of Angel (in German!) at the drop of a hat.

Sorry, Verbify, the only thing I can say in German is "was ist mit Madonna?" But I could talk a little Angel in Chinese....

My approach to teaching might be different (more detailed) if I went for lecturing, but I'm a discussion kind of gal. I usually have a general topic I want to cover, but it's hard--and perhaps counter-productive--to plan discussion out too much ahead of time. The suprising places you can end up, and the fact that sometimes my students actually teach me stuff, is one reason I like my job.

thanks for the good wishes, Madeliene and Spike. I'm also hoping for nice students who surprise rather than shock me.

Aw, I always liked when professors just read the syllabus/explained the class on the first day. First days are crap. Even if it were the first day of Eating Ice Cream and Pizza Forever and Never Getting Fat.

Other than that, you sound like my kind of professor. I always LOVED discussion classes and DREADED the lectures. And skipped the lectures. Precious few discussion classes at BYU.

Like you, Holly, I have a strong preference for teaching discussion-based seminars. In my previous job, the largest class size I ever had to cope with was 45 students and while that was too large to have a genuine discussion, there were lots of tricks I could use to run classes like seminars and to get students to be active. I could keep lecturing to a minimum, using lectures to give context or explain difficult concepts.

Here, I teach postgrad seminars, which can be quite wonderful. There are usually enough talented students in the course to keep the level of discussion fairly sophisticated and I get to have those conversations about things that really matter to me with people who are trying very hard to understand me and my concerns. Such interactions with the students really are that learning experience that you describe and it's wonderful. In the cases where discussion is not going so well, my job as a teacher is just to provide a question that gives a new angle on the material (again, an exercise that teaches me at least as much as it teaches the students) or just to look sternly at students who are not helping with the discussion so they feel obliged to chip in. Hey, yet another reason to get those reading glasses!

Undergrad teaching, though, is another matter. This semester, I will deliver eight two-hour lectures to 60-70 students. This course is not mandatory, so most will be there voluntarily, but it's far too many students to manage as a discussion group. Last spring, I had a mandatory class with 140 students (still not in the realm of anonymity of 350 in a lecture hall but in practical terms, the same style). Giving weekly lectures felt like having to write and deliver a conference paper each week to a large, bored and hostile audience. That a handful of them got and liked what I tried to do did not mitigate the frustration. And those lectures were only 50 minutes -- I'm a bit worried about how to manage a two hour session. Obviously I can't just be a talking head for that length of time: even if the students wanted to watch me go like that, I doubt I could keep it up over a whole semester. I guess the good news is that this lecture format is forcing me to be creative.

Sometimes I think about taking classes again, maybe pursuing another degree. If you ever get to run a seminar on Buffy and Angel, I would love to sit in. But I'd probably be a nightmare student: too keen, always sitting in the front, hogging the discussion...

Hi Rebecca--I also liked professors who read the syllabus on the first day, and I like doing it as a professor. But I have one classes where three fourths of the students have had at least one class with me (two of them have had four) and I just can't make those students read that whole damn thing again. But believe me, in the intro to creative writing class I'm teaching, we're going to read almost every single word of the syllabus. Out Loud. Because that way they have little excuse for not understanding my policies.

Spike, the undergrad lecture class you describe from last semester sounds like one definition of hell. I'll be interested in hear about what you come up with for this year, with your two-hour slot.

Did you hear that Martin Sheen has enrolled at the National University Ireland in Galway to study English literature, philosophy and oceanography? I wonder what it would be like to have a very famous 60-something student in an undergraduate class.

But unlike you and him, I never think about pursuing another degree. Those are not the classes I want to take. I am taking a few knitting classes in October; that's about the style I want to pursue. I never again want to take a course where I have to turn in homework. I'm just done with that.

What you do on the second day of class is repeat the first day for those who, for whatever reason, weren't there. Or you let the class watch you kill them with a slow painful death. Three weeks later, when all the preliminaries are out of the way and students know each other, and patterns are established and a class culture ermerges, in walks several students that the administration allowed to add the class late. I couldn't decide, in those cases, who I wanted to kill first, the students are the nonteaching administrators.

Lord, how I miss the second day of class.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on August 31, 2006 9:09 AM.

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