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Monday, August 16, 2010

Choices, decisions....

I've spent a good deal of time on campus today, after doing placement reading, trying to figure out what to assign in 101, at least in the first few weeks, leading into the first paper. I've been thinking that in the past I've led into the environmental theme of the course from the wrong direction, when it comes to countering student resistance to the topic. The resistance is not uniform: there are students who do care about environmental issues, more who pay lip-service to the notions, but a good number of the students generally don't give a rat's petite patoot. I have my long open letter, which I've often assigned in the past, to some good effect (again, not uniform)--and indeed, I've just spent some time revising/updating it: the letter directly confronts the major points of resistance I encounter, and that kind of "transparency," as I call it, tends to help.

But lately I've been wondering if I should try to start the semester with readings that are not about the spiritual value of nature (which is what I've done in the past, and it's a hard sell to the resistant, even lip-service students) but rather assign readings that are more pragmatic, in effect saying to students, "Look, this is what happens to human bodies; this is what people in urban environments have to deal with; your health, your community, could be on the line here." These are obviously important points to make, but that approach changes all the paper assignments--and do I really want to take that on right now?

Um, don't know.

In the process, however, I started looking for other articles by Michael Pollan that I might use in place of the one I've been using--and oh, Lordy, am I ever faced with the hateful problem of too many wonderful options. (Check out his "Article" links on his home page: http://michaelpollan.com.) I want to assign three that I downloaded, but I fear doing so would just be overwhelming. Oh, argh.

On the other hand, I was talking with several colleagues about the problem of the new "cap" for class sizes: I will almost certainly end up with three 101 sections each with 27 students (even though right now one of them only has 6: I know that "leveling" will happen--students being moved from one over-filled section to another at the same time that has fewer bodies--not to mention all those students who are taking their placement tests right now--though God Forbid I have a class full of students who are testing now: you know perfectly well who it is who is usually taking the test at this stage in the game, and the proportion of those who get passed into credit bearing courses by the veritable skin of their teeth). OK, so three classes, each with 27 students. Check my math, but I believe that's eighty-one first papers to grade (and I'm not looking at the lit class, as their papers will be on a different schedule)--unless I can set the bar high enough that the attrition hits before the first paper. I hate to try to chase students out of my classes: I am an educator; I want them to stay and get educated, dammit. But there is a measure of self-protection I have to consider here--not to mention the quality of educating I can do for that many students. Argh again.

But I just sat here staring off into space for a blank moment: clearly the brains are seizing up--and I'm about to head off for dinner with former student Natasha, so I'll just let everything marinate overnight.

Classes start two weeks from Wednesday--but I really do need to get all the handouts for the first two weeks done and photocopied as much earlier as possible, because I don't want to have to deal with the usual first day mailroom panic ("I need these copied for my class that starts in 5 minutes! and one of the copiers is broken!! and there are 40 people in line waiting to get their copies made!!!") Well, absolute worst-case scenario: students don't get their "first day" handouts until the second day--which is actually the second week. This semester is just going to have a weird start, that's all there is to it.

Sigh. Ah well.

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