This Week In My Classes: (Bad) First Impressions

DALHOUSIE-UNIVERSITYOr maybe not. I hope not. I don’t mean that my students in the classes that started up today made a bad impression on me–far from it, in fact, as they seemed pretty attentive and ready to go, which is impressive considering the circumstances of my first class meeting this morning, at least. But their first impressions of me probably could have been better, and given the research that shows students make up their minds about professors pretty quickly (for better and for worse), it’s a bit discouraging to start the term off this way.

Actually, maybe it wasn’t so bad. My afternoon class seemed basically fine, though in an ironic contrast to the sweltering room my morning class was in, its room was so cold it gave me the sniffles! I was more comfortable in other ways, though: my afternoon class is 19th-Century Fiction (Austen to Dickens), and especially once I got to talking about our actual novels, I felt my own enthusiasm for the new term rising. I didn’t choose the reading list to follow any deliberate theme (not like last year’s Dickens to Hardy version, for instance, which focused on ‘troublesome’ women). It’s just a greatest hits list, starting with Persuasion then moving through Vanity FairJane EyreNorth and South, and Great Expectations. There are definitely some common threads, as I began pointing out today: one will be the Napoleonic Wars, another the ‘condition of England,’ another paths (and impediments) for women, and another versions of the Bildungsroman. Because students arrive in this class from so many different paths now, I typically begin (as I will on Friday) with a capsule history of the 19th-century novel. Then it’s on to Austen on Monday and away we go!

howe-close-readingMy morning class was Close Reading. I don’t think it was a disaster–I did more or less get through my introductory lecture, in which I lay out the underlying concepts of the course as I’ve developed it–but it did not go well. One problem both was and wasn’t my fault. It was my idea to find us a new room when I saw that we’d been assigned to one of the dreary (and very dusty) rooms in our Life Sciences Centre (which is where pedagogical dreams go to die, in my experience). Don’t let the picture fool you: there may be perfectly nice, bright, airy rooms somewhere up high, but the ones we’re typically stuck in are at ground level or below, and they are terrible. I taught Mystery and Detective Fiction once in a windowless concrete block that might as well have been in a prison–which I guess was thematically appropriate, but it was no fun, and neither was teaching Bleak House in a similar room another time. Anyway, with the help of my indefatigable colleague in our department office I was able to move out of LSC into what sounded like a much better room, upstairs in the library, with windows all around (to the library, not to the outside, but still!) and recently refitted technology. Unfortunately, though my class is sized for the room’s theoretical cap, there was barely room for everyone, and the poor students were crammed in cheek by jowl as the temperature rose steadily to a truly unhealthy level. Not good! Then, as I was sweating my way through my lecture, my laptop froze, which has been one of the regular perks of my recent “upgrade” to a Windows 10 machine. I managed to reboot it without too much trouble and more or less managed to carry on with my lecture–I think! But I was so overheated and flustered by that point that I can only hope I remained coherent.

Well, I’m sure they’ve seen worse–right? I did at least cover what I’d meant to, and I think I made helpful noises when students asked questions, and now we are working on relocating the class again so none of us have to endure quite that level of discomfort again. Ironically, the only room that is currently available is the same one in Life Sciences that I worked so hard to get out of. If it’s big enough and not too hot, I guess I can put up with having a chalk board instead of a white board and needing to sign out cables any time I need to hook up my iPad for slides. (I won’t be using my laptop again, that’s for sure: I don’t need that extra layer of worry!)

And so here we are: another year begun. To be honest, I hadn’t been feeling that excited for the start of term: I’ve been feeling tired and mopey for much of the summer, and the shadow of my promotion debacle still hangs over my relationship with some of my colleagues and with Dalhousie as a whole. Once upon a time I was ready and willing to put my work for the university ahead of almost everything; looking back, I actually regret the extent to which I made it a priority, and now when I’m asked to do things that aren’t necessarily in my job description I find myself reflecting on the sacrifices I made to be in this profession (which are never acknowledged as such by universities)–like settling far from my family–and thinking maybe that’s actually enough “extra” commitment for one lifetime! It really helped my attitude to see students again, though. My goal for the year is to do as well by them as I can. I feel pretty confident that if I put my energy where they are, it will have a good effect on other aspects of my life and work as well.

3 thoughts on “This Week In My Classes: (Bad) First Impressions

  1. Jeanne September 6, 2017 / 5:27 pm

    I understand this part of your sentence so well: “looking back, I actually regret the extent to which I made it a priority.” But we’ve made our beds. It sounds like your attitude towards the students will help you sail through any difficult waters.


    • Rohan Maitzen September 6, 2017 / 9:52 pm

      Yes, you can’t get back any of those times you said “leaving me alone, I have to work,” can you! But realistically, I guess I don’t know if I could have worked any less hard or been any less committed and still got done what I had to. It’s easy from this vantage point, long post-tenure, with the kids so grown up they don’t need that much from me, to second-guess my earlier, more frantic self.


  2. Lisa Taylor September 7, 2017 / 8:08 am

    I’m looking forward to reading your comments and analysis of these books. I’m interested in all of them. Good luck with your room.


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