This Week in My Classes – Yes, Really!

That’s right: I’m teaching again, starting this Thursday. Why do I put in for summer courses? Though the extra $$ is always welcome, a stronger motivation is the classroom experience itself, which is intensified in the summer session because we cover a full term course in just over three weeks, meeting ten hours a week. Usually, the students are taking just the one course, so it is easier to build up some momentum as everyone remembers, from class to class, what we’ve been talking about. We get to know each other well, and usually there is good energy in the room. The pace is relentless (or, as I urge them to see it on their syllabus, the fun is non-stop!) and it all goes by in what seems like a flash–but an intense one. This year I’m offering the early half of our pair of 19th-century fiction courses, the Austen to Dickens part. For a limited time only (because once the course is underway, I’m going to password-protect the site) you can read all about it here! In deference to our limited time, I’ve reduced the number of long novels: during the regular term I typically assign five, usually starting with Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion, sometimes including Waverley, always Vanity Fair, usuallyJane Eyre (though sometimes I rotate in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), sometimes North and South, and ending with Dickens, usually Great Expectations but sometimes Hard Times or, if I’m feeling my oats, Bleak House, and once, because I was doing a French Revolution / Napoleonic Wars motif throughout, A Tale of Two Cities. It’s just not physically possible for us to turn that many pages in the time we have, but I think “The Two Drovers” gives us a lot of what is important about Scott, and though A Christmas Carol is maybe not the richest Dickens option, it pairs really interestingly with Silas Marner, which is a gem. I’m going to make them write a lot, and I’d rather they have time to read pretty closely; I think (I hope!) I’ve found a reasonable balance. One of the challenges of these summer classes is that we meet for 2.5 hours at a time, which can actually mean more classroom time on smaller sections of text–again, an opportunity to read closely, but to avoid tedium I’ll probably work in group exercises, video clips (responsible framed, or so I hope, with interpretive problems, so we don’t just zone out), and maybe even some games! First up will be Pride and Prejudice, which I haven’t actually taught (or read) in a few years. I’m looking forward to giving it a fresh look–especially after working on a review of Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World for the June issue of Open Letters Monthly (due out any moment now).

The hectic pace will probably, perversely, be good for my reading and blogging schedule. The looser routine of the last week or so has been bad for my self-discipline! But I needed some puttering time after the intensity of last term. I made a lot of demands on my students (they felt it, judging from my course evaluations)–but that of course also means, though the students don’t always seem to recognize this, that I put myself under a lot of pressure as well. You hear these urban legends (mostly, it sometimes seems, put out by Margaret Wente) about creaky professors bumbling into class late carrying yellowed notes from the 1970s before ambling off to sherry hour, or else acting like prima donnas and refusing to teach at all, but all the academics I know work really hard for their classes and their students.  We’re all driven by our inner demons-mostly – ‘imposter syndrome‘ and  hunger for approval (remember, we understood success in terms of letter grades ourselves, so imagine the confused state of our egos now that nobody grades us anymore except our students…many of whom, let’s just say, don’t altogether share our obsessive qualities or our peculiar interests). Anyway, the night before my class starts I’ll probably have one of my usual paranoid dreams about not being able to find the classroom, or showing up without any notes, or discovering I’m supposed to teach a subject I actually know nothing about, and then I’ll be all jittery on Day 1 and talk way too fast for a bit, instead of just my usual rattling pace–and then things will settle down, and I’ll settle down, and we’ll all get a lot done.

2 thoughts on “This Week in My Classes – Yes, Really!

  1. Jeanne June 1, 2010 / 12:13 pm

    This quarter at my commuter college, teaching only one class with 16 people in it and knowing that it’s the last class I’ll teach there, I’ve been trying to be more conscious of reining in what you call “our obsessive qualities” and “our peculiar interests,” and it’s been a successful exercise. Discussions have been much more student-centered, and while some of them have been briefer and many more meandering than I would have liked, the students are more satisfied than in previous classes where I led them to learn more of what I thought they needed to know.


  2. Colleen June 1, 2010 / 12:14 pm

    Heh: “creaky professors bumbling into class late carrying yellowed notes from the 1970s before ambling off to sherry hour”. I knew a professor who was exactly this person; I hope it’s the same one Wente knows; I’d hate for there to be two of them.

    Enjoy the class! It sounds like a great deal of fun, from both sides!


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