This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

The first couple of weeks of the new term are always deceptive: you anticipate them with so much anxiety after the slower pace of summer work, but then for a while, though the logistics are a bit hectic and there are more day-to-day deadlines, it doesn’t seem that bad. But then the first significant assignments come in, and you have to keep up the day-to-day stuff on top of marking them, and there are more meetings, and they both take time and generate things to do, and the next thing you know you are barely keeping track of it all. And that’s about where I am now!

Really, it’s not so bad. I am lucky this term to have a relatively light teaching load – not just because I’ve got only two courses but because one of them that was capped at 64 only filled to around 40, so between the two I’ve got just about 80 students instead of a possible 100, and instead of the much larger number involved when one of the classes is a big section of one of our introductory classes. When you reach those bigger sizes, you have the support of teaching assistants with the marking, but the other administrative aspects of teaching still increase dramatically. A colleague who was teaching our biggest intro class, at 360 students, had more than 30 plagiarism cases one year, for instance, all of which he had to handle himself. Even with our new admirably streamlined process, you can estimate that each one took at least 2 hours, including compiling and filing the documentation and then attending the hearing. Yikes!

I’ve also been thinking about how much harder it was for me to manage my teaching obligations when my children were small and needed (and wanted) a lot more attention from me than they do now. My teaching load was higher then, and I had less experience and fewer prepared materials to draw on. I regret, now, the number of times I shooed the kids away or freaked out because they were making it hard for me to work — but at the same time, I can’t really see how I could have kept on top of the work and given them more than I did. And now I have less work to do in some ways, or I’m better at it, or more efficient, but sometimes I feel just as tired, probably because now I’m not so young anymore! After class, it takes me a while to recuperate, just sitting quietly in my office — often, right now, in front of the fan I brought in, because we are having unseasonably warm and humid weather.

Still, I always like the energy both demanded and generated by the actual classroom time; regular readers will know how often I complain about summer doldrums, too, brought on by too vacant a schedule and too few opportunities for interaction and engagement with other people. As more and more of my colleagues head into retirement, I do sometimes fantasize about what that phase will be like for me, and how soon I might be able to enter into it. (Not that soon, since I’ve just turned 50!) I think when the time does come I will have to be careful that it isn’t like an endless summer, without any structure. For now what I have to do is make sure I can maintain my energy and enthusiasm — by, for instance, trying to bring less work home with me than I once had to, and making time as best I can for the reading and writing that I want to do.

As for what’s happening in my actual classes this week, it’s Vanity Fair in one and short fiction in the other, specifically, this week, “Young Goodman Brown,” “The Boarding House,” and then on Friday, “A Rose for Emily.” The short stories are for Close Reading, so our focus is on learning to identify specific elements of fiction (point of view, characterization, setting) and how they contribute to the meaning and effects of the fiction. In 19th-Century Fiction I am working on weaning myself from my lecture notes, something I did quite well with in last year’s seminar on the Victorian ‘Woman Question’ but still get a bit anxious about in a lecture-style class. I’m still bringing my notes in, and I do usually stick to the planned topics on them, but I don’t “follow” them carefully unless I have a very specific argument I want to lay out. With Vanity Fair, there’s not much risk of running out of things to talk about!

2 Comments to This Week In My Classes: Keeping Up

  1. Karen Bourirer's Gravatar Karen Bourirer
    September 27, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this post! I’m in the small child newish to teaching phase right now. It’s hard! It makes such a huge difference to have taught a class or a book even once before. I’m grateful to have only one new prep this year.

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