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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Week 1: finis

All's well in the land of the new semester. I've met all my classes now and most of the students, with the exception of a few absentees. In every section, there is a reasonable critical mass of students who are eager, already working hard to be good and do things right. It was nice to end my teaching week with a comment from the last student out the door today: "I'm glad I chose your section." This was from a slightly older student; she seems very sharp, on the ball, so even though I'm not quite sure what gave her that feeling, I'm glad she had it.

But god alone knows what I've forgotten to go over, what little bits will come back to bite me in the ass. I need to remember (hah!) to reinforce with the students in my Monday/Wednesday classes that I only went over some of the highlights about the attendance policy, late paper policy--and that (as I made very clear today) it is the students' responsibility to know the policies in detail, even the bits I forgot to go over. One student in the later of today's classes was reading the syllabus carefully and asking questions to be sure he understood--which made me aware of how much I'd forgotten to clarify with all the other sections. Shit. But his asking I take as a good sign.

Interesting thing: in today's 101s (can't remember if I did it yesterday), I stated that we're reading essays, not stories--and I asked students what the difference was. Lots and lots of interesting guesses. I don't want to get into the whole complicated definition of "story" (actually a pretty loose term); mostly I just get annoyed that they routinely refer to anything they read as a story. After letting them guess for a while, I finally just told them: essay is nonfiction; story (at least as the term is generally used in the literature field) is fiction. That's obviously not always and exclusively true, and the boundaries are more blurry than that, but if I can just get them to refer to the works we read as essays, not stories, I'll be happy.

I was frustrated today by the fact that I couldn't turn my attention entirely to the book review--or at least for not long enough: I got into the office, started revising, and was just getting a good head of steam going when I had to stop and go to a committee meeting, followed immediately by my first class of the day. I know myself well enough to know that the break between classes was not long enough to get the revision rolling again: I need a long runway to get airborne on that kind of work. And now, of course, although I'm on a bit of a "post-teaching" high, my brains are about ready to shut down for the night, I won't get back to finishing off that review until tomorrow. But I've got tomorrow, thank god, without interruption (and hopefully without the hurricane causing any power outages), so I can crank it out and then dust off my hands and get ready for the next thing.

Which is class stuff. I have to pull together the first review sheet for the 101 classes (I'll e-mail it to them), but I'm mostly focusing on the short story class. Between classes today, I read more in the anthology: a couple of dynamite stories (one of which is horrifically grim but incredibly well written)--but I'm not sure how to frame them. I'm beginning to wonder if I should let go of my desire to pre-frame the stories according to themes and instead let the students uncover whatever connections they can find. Or not even make any connections but just dive as deeply into a story as possible (though generally, comparison/contrast work is easier for them). Theme, after all, is not the be-all and end-all of literary analysis, and it is an incredibly difficult concept for students to grasp in any event. Of course, that's part of why I want to hammer away at it, to help them "get" it better. And I do worry about the students coming up with anything significant to say if I just turn them loose, without some kind of frame to help them. Hum, hum, hum.

I reckon I'll simply keep reading, noting which stories do something interesting as far as I'm concerned, and hope that some kind of frame begins to become apparent to me.

And as I read, I am interested to note how frequently death is an important element in stories, one way or another. Facing someone else's death, facing one's own.... I don't want to depress the bejesus out of the students, but truly, some fascinating stories lie down that path.

I'll see where the reading takes me over the weekend. Meanwhile, mercifully, the temperature is starting to drop as the hurricane comes closer, so working at home tomorrow without A/C won't be painful--and my brains will have at least a fighting chance of working at something close to peak ability. And, I hope, will do so without any further infusions of chocolate. I'm not holding my breath on that, however.

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