This Week in My Classes: Not with a bang but a whimper

My last class of the term was Monday afternoon–a review session for the final exam in my Brit Lit survey. I had hoped to go out on some kind of high note. Usually I plan a bit of a closing peroration about the value of literature and the intellectual rewards of our work over the term, and sometimes (ever the optimist) I bring a list of suggested further reading. Two things militated against rhetorical flourishes on Monday. First, I got sick–“just” a cold, but you try (I’m sure some of you have tried) being eloquent when you have a cold. (It turns out that even speaking as much as I did was a bad idea, since almost immediately after class the virus marched its happy way to my  larynx and took away my voice, which made my other major commitment for this week, participating in a PhD comprehensive exam, just that much more challenging!) The second factor was the format of the class: I like to do review in a Q&A format working off a handout of possible exam questions. I figure they should have their last chance to make me explain or clarify the things they feel uncertain about. But that means it wasn’t a very orderly session, and I didn’t have the physical or mental strength to reclaim the room at the end to make any kind of goodbye statement. Well, I’m sure they didn’t mind. I feel frustrated about this particular class because I really haven’t been able to judge their level of engagement as well as I usually can. One-on-one exchanges with students usually gave me a good feeling, but then the students who bother to talk to you one-on-one are a self-selecting group. I think I offered them quite a lot of good stuff this term (with the help, too, of some great guest lecturers) but I’m not sorry that someone else is taking this class next year: I’d like to rethink a few things about it before I do it again. I’m sorry to say that one of the things I’m reconsidering is the wiki project I designed. I was very enthusiastic about this assignment when I introduced it last year, and the results were pretty good despite some initial resistance and some lackluster participation from a few. I thought I could overcome the resistance better this time by talking about the value it had proved to have for last year’s group, and I made it worth more to motivate the slackers to do their share. Though some students really stepped up, overall the investment in the wikis seemed worse this year. Given how much effort it takes to set them up and administer them, I think I might not try again, or I might try such a thing only in a much smaller class where I can really play an active role in stimulating ideas and generating the kind of enthusiasm for results that is necessary to carry it along.

So now it’s all over but the marking: 23 essays for Mystery & Detective Fiction (they went through proposals with me already, so I’m expecting the final results to be quite good–plus in this group the level of engagement was conspicuously high), 60 or so for the survey (which thankfully I split with my TA), and then 60 or so exams, which don’t even get written until December 18. I can’t say I am looking forward to the next two weeks, but at the end of them lies my sabbatical, for which I have high hopes.

3 thoughts on “This Week in My Classes: Not with a bang but a whimper

  1. litlove December 9, 2010 / 5:11 am

    Oh and sabbatical ahead! How wonderful. But don’t worry too much about the engagement of your class. Every class has its own character, I find, and there’s nothing you can do about it – just the alchemy that happens when a group of different personalities gets together. Sounds like this class tended en masse towards dead air and the collective belief that someone else could do it – whatever ‘it’ was, contribute vocally or to the wiki. I’ve had classes like that – often composed of perfectly nice individuals, who flatten out together. But sabbatical!! Now that’s a fine prospect.


  2. Colleen December 9, 2010 / 12:29 pm

    SABBATICAL! Am I allowed to ask what you’ll be working on during your sabbatical?


  3. Rohan Maitzen December 9, 2010 / 7:46 pm

    @litlove, thank you! you are always so soothing about my teaching angst. I’m sure it was fine, but sabbatical will be more fine.

    @Colleen, of course you can ask! I have many ambitions. One pressing one is finally to complete the essay about Ahdaf Soueif and George Eliot that I’ve been working on for quite a while. Another is to take stock of some other odds and ends of research and writing, to see how or if I can make them add up to finished things, or maybe even cohere into something larger. Another is to read the great stack of Virago modern classics I was recently given and write about them. Another is to read stacks of other books–and maybe write about them! Every year I realize how little I’ve really read, so this is a chance to catch up on my education. Another is to reconsider some of the courses I’ve been teaching for a while and will be teaching again when I come back: it’s hard to make changes when you’re in the midst of other things, so when the daily schedule is quieter, I can reconsider reading lists and assignment sequences and perhaps start up next fall (it’s just a half-year sabbatical) with some fresh ideas and plans.


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