Monday, October 19, 2009

Someone's Convinced That RYS Can Be Used For Good. On Teachable Moments, Blah Blah Blah.

I poured my heart into teaching last semester’s seminar at a R1 University because, thanks to the grant gods, I will not be teaching for the next two years. I wanted this class to be perfect, inspiring for the students, and such rewarding teaching experience for me that two years from now I will bound back into the classroom, bright eyed and bushy tailed, excited to teach. Yes, last semester I had “O Captain, my captain” syndrome.

Frankly, the class went okay. I exchanged clarity for exciting lectures and the straightforward for the bizarre reading. (I am relatively new to the classroom and am learning that you can be clear and exciting, etc.) In short, I wished I were teaching a grad class.

The result?

One student has been sending emails that redefine rude because after (mercifully) granting her an incomplete she failed to do the work over the summer. She had come to me 3 weeks before the end of the semester to ask for help rewriting all the papers for the class. Rather than saying ‘tough’ I thought ‘oooh, a teachable moment.’ We worked hard together for the last 3 weeks, I really thought the student was getting the idea. The student did not pass the class and an incomplete + F on a transcript looks a whole lot worse that a simple F. The teachable moment turned out to be a lesson for me - I did this student no favors by granting more time to improve the semester’s work. It was just vanity on my part.

Another student this semester has written to thank me for the course and let me know she had just learned something in another lecture that related to her research paper for our seminar last semester. Gasp - she is beginning to make connections among various courses. I confess - I teared up a bit. She was a good student in my class. Not the smartest but definitely the hardest worker.

The classroom isn’t about me. It isn’t about the students either. It is about the material. When I return to the classroom in 2 years, I don’t want to play “here comes the Homeric poem choo-choo train” to get the snowflakes to swallow the stuff. I could give a dry lecture + power point, the most basic-here is the material-I am presenting it-I don’t care what you do with it-delivery.. But there must be some in-between strategies. (Too often in the humanities, it comes back to talking about sex or violence in ‘academic’ ways.)

Please, professors, share a teacher-trick you have up your sleeve. To the students reading this—Do you have a memorable moment in the classroom, when a professor got you momentarily interested in a subject you don’t care about?

Pertinax from Parowan