Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cue the hallelujah chorus!

I have just finished grading the very last paper from my fall classes, and I can honestly say I’ve never been so happy in my life to see the end of a semester. I’m having a hard time understanding why. I was stressed, of course—but that’s no departure from the norm. Teaching takes up a tremendous amount of time and energy for me, and though I’ve tried to come up with shortcuts to make it less of a time-sucker, I end up feeling unsatisfied myself, and revert to my old ways before too long. As far as I can figure it, there were three problems.

One is just pathetic and revealing of my laziness: I had a class that began at 930 in the morning. Yes, I understand that many people are at work well before 930 am. But in my (meager) defense, I live an hour from school—longer if I take the bus—and have to get up before 7 to make it to campus by that 930 class. The early hour was compounded by my night-owlness, certainly, but also by the unfortunate scheduling of one of my classes for a long block one night each week. So I would get to school exhausted and be there long, long after sundown, and drive an hour home in literal and figurative gloom.

The second problem is that the night course in question was Shakespeare. I like Shakespeare, and I like rereading plays every time I teach the course. But I’m not a Shakespearean. I’m not even a drama person. And I can’t actually spend 15 weeks on the sonnets. I have a few insights about Shakespeare, and can offer some intriguing readings of this play or that, and I think my discussions interest the students, but it’s not really where I live, intellectually. It’s not like teaching Milton, which I could do every semester until doomsday. It doesn’t help that at my institution Shakespeare is (or has been—this may be changing) a required course for English majors, so the students tend to be grudging in higher numbers than I normally see in my classes. So I end up being ON much more ferociously to keep their interest, and it seems more of a performance on my part because, as I said, Shakespeare isn’t my primary honey. It takes a lot out of me. And in a three-hour post-sunset block, it proved to be a little too much.

The third problem is that the course that was SUPPOSED to be my oasis, that has been my oasis when I’ve taught it in the past, flopped. By “oasis” I mean stimulating, exciting, intellectually rigorous—the kind of class where I could be eagerly learning something new every day. But the particular combo of students in that class just wasn’t conducive to that effect: they were shy, retiring, quiet, resistant to my every effort to charge them up, even my overt addressing of the situation. And it drained me. It ended up being another serious performance on my part, but (in contrast with the Shakespeare class) this time to unresponsive students. I don’t know if they got anything out of it at all, and that’s a shame, because it’s a class that tackles very cool issues close to my heart.

In any case, I now need to turn my attention to Spenser, since I’m teaching all of the FQ next term to a grad class. I’m curious: this could either fall totally flat or turn out to be the most fun and quirky class of the year. I’ll keep you posted.


Dr. Write said...

Congrats on being done, and I think it's criminal that you were grading on Dec. 23. Criminal!!
So enjoy your time off!
Happy Holidays!

Flavia said...

Oh, sister, do I hear you. I actually very much enjoy teaching Shakespeare--but this past semester I, too, had the three-hour night class (after likewise arriving on campus much earlier, for two late morning/early afternoon classes), and it's a required course here, too. So I was forever ferociously THROWING ENERGY AROUND THE ROOM, and pacing and smiling and coaxing and gesticulating when in reality so very very close to collapsing on the floor in broken little pieces.

Congrats on surviving. Enjoy your holidays!

dkm said...
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outside voice said...

Oh, man, I wish I had read this post earlier...have just *now* emotionally detached from a class like that in fall semester. And Flavia's description above was EXACTLY what it felt like. Honestly, it upset me so much that I couldn't even blog about it.

Here's to a new semester. Cheers!