This Week In My Classes: Slouching Towards the End

I was about to open this post by saying “it has been a tough week” when I realized it’s only Monday! On the other hand, it has been a challenging week if we start it back at last Monday, and since I haven’t posted here since then, I think that’s fair enough.

It’s nothing in particular making things difficult: just the usual end-of-term craziness. I had four different assignments to grade last week. In 19th-Century Fiction, the students who’d opted to write their first paper on Jane Eyre had turned those in, while the students who’d opted to write theirs on North and South submitted their proposals; and most of the class also wrote our unit test on North and South. Then in Close Reading the students who had opted to do their second assignment on Middlemarch (which was most of them) turned those in. I’m pleased to say that as of this morning I had returned all of these assignments, meaning I’ve cleared the deck for the North and South papers coming in on Wednesday, after which nothing else is due until the Great Expectations test next week.

I know I’m not the only one feeling a bit overwhelmed: my students are too. I’m doing what I can to keep up my own spirits and bring a lot of energy to class, but I admit I faltered today when all my efforts to spark discussion of Great Expectations seemed to dead end. I’ve never struggled to get people talking about Wemmick and his Aged Parent before! Things have been a bit quieter than I’m used to in 19th-Century Fiction for a while now, and today after class I was worrying that I’ve made it worse by talking more myself to compensate, and then by showing my frustration, which is always a bad move. I haven’t felt this stymied in class since the last time I taught Waverley–which was the time I decided to stage an “intervention” and see if we could bust out of our collective slump. It worked pretty well, and I think I need to try something similar on Wednesday, if probably less elaborate: we have only two sessions left on Great Expectations and it will be a real shame if they all go the way today’s did.

In Close Reading we are nearly finished with The Remains of the Day. Discussion is going better there: I always feel that I get a bit of a bump just because a lot of students are so relieved to be done with Middlemarch that Remains looks especially good to them! But of course it is a genuinely great novel and full of artful and important things to talk about. I should say, too, that although I felt at times that as a group we were struggling with Middlemarch, I did hear from a couple of students who appreciated the novel a lot, which I found very encouraging, as I did the excellent work a number of them did on their assignments. I do think it is worth giving students the opportunity to read it and think about it even if they don’t enjoy it: I try every trick I can think of to boost their pleasure in it, but ultimately a literature class is a place to learn, after all. I have resolved, however, that the next time I teach Middlemarch it will be in a 19th-century fiction class where nobody can reasonably express surprise or resentment at being assigned a very long book.

It’s going to stay pretty busy for the next week, and then the pace changes as daily classes end and we move on to final essays and exams. I usually steal a little time for Christmas shopping before these last assignments come in, as once they do they have to be my top priority until grades are filed. I’ve also got an outstanding review to finish: I’ve read the books (two of them, on Golden Age crime fiction) but my notes and draft have been malingering because I’ve just been too tired to concentrate on writing after my other work is done. When my brain is otherwise too addled to use, I’ve been working on my new website, especially on updating my blog indices so the links go to addresses on my own domain. It occurred to me last night that this is barely half the battle, as so many of my posts have internal links as well…wish me luck! And if you know of any shortcuts to getting this stuff done, do tell.

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