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Thursday, January 23, 2014

The usual mixed bag

Well, I've met all three classes, though not all the students. I believe everyone was there for Nature in Lit--including six (count 'em, six) former students, four from Mystery and Detective, two from Fiction Writing. The class was thus a bit of a madhouse, of course, but things will settle down--if for no other reason than that Judy Blue Eyes is only going to be auditing until March, at which point she has to take a full-time job. She'll come when she can, just to hang out with us, but when she's not there, Ms Enthusiasm will be a little less Tiggerish. I hope. A few of the students looked alert, interested, even dare I say excited to see how the class was starting out: the usual first class discussion about what is "nature" and what is not led into very cool territory already: I like the way they're thinking, and they're perking up their ears that we're already getting into actual thought, ideas, musings. One poor student looked like Bambi in headlights: he was freaked out just to try to come up with something that counts as "nature," even when I told them they could be as simplistic as they liked. One student was struggling not to fall asleep--but he doesn't seem like a bad sort, just not as caught up in the discussion as I'd hope. The rest: we'll see. As always.

I wasn't surprised that the usual gang didn't want to leave the room, were happy to hang out and talk about whatever (nothing having specifically to do with the class). I realize I'm going to have to be vigilant about my own time and remember that I have a class after that one meets. I was already to head back to my office (the donkey in the rut worn by last semester's pattern--we're even in the same classroom as the Mystery class was) when I suddenly thought, "Oh! I have to go teach some more."

That 102 had the advantage of more bodies in the room--not quite as vacant feeling as yesterday's 102--but the students seemed about the same: some enjoying the humor, seeming fine with what I explained, a few very visibly reluctant if not outright resistant, a few falling asleep--or simply sitting there with the lights off. One student reminds me already of a student from last semester: charming as all get out, willing to talk and be the life of the party but worrying about the work and asking the same question over and over (about the class reader--which is not such a difficult concept to grasp: there's a photocopied reader. It's in a box outside my office door. Pick one up. Put it in a ring binder. But something about all that was way more than he could take in). I also can tell already that I'm going to spend a lot of time in the first weeks reminding them that their assignments are in the schedule within the syllabus. What's due? Look in the schedule. Will we write papers? Look in the schedule (and duh).

Since most of them were in class, I'm opting not to send the e-mail to the absentees that I sent to yesterday's class, letting them know there is already work due. They'll catch up--or not.

One thing I'm a little concerned about in terms of my own first day approach is that I didn't do the "college will change you" and "work through frustration" speeches--I didn't even think of it until just now (weird: I wonder what that block is about?)--but I did tell them that they don't have to be in my section of 102 if the work seems like more than they want to take on. I tried to be nice about it, not to deliberately scare anyone away, but the more I think about it, the more I think it's a bad idea for me and my teaching methods. I think it sets up an expectation of unhappiness with the class, which is not the tone I want to set for the beginning of the semester. I know Paul says something along those lines, and it probably flies for him, but I just don't think it's right for me. And I do want to do the usual set pieces, as I think they do work very well with my persona and philosophy. So, I'll find time next week--dammit, I'll make time next week--to give the talk. I did tell the Nature in Lit students that I think college is really about just thinking about stuff in new and deeper ways, and I did tell the 102 students that they'll be working on critical thinking, which is valuable in life, never mind academics, but those other two ideas--about change and frustration--are key.

So how do I feel about this first week? I'd give myself a B. But it's early days yet, and I have time to improve. Oh, speaking of which: I gave the students in all the classes a little handout--complete with arrows--showing how gathering evidence leads to theories about possible arguments, and the theories lead eventually to an argument, which is what a paper is about--and the students from Mystery gave me a raft of shit about how useful that would have been to them last semester. "Why didn't you give this to us??" Well, because I hadn't come up with it yet. I learn too, you know. "Do you know how useful this would have been?" Yes, which is why I came up with it; I listened to what you said and thought this would be useful. "So you listened to us at the end? But that was too late to help us then!" True, but it can help you now....

And the main thing I take from that exchange is that the handout may actually do what I want it to do. We'll see. I'll get first logs next week, and that will reveal a lot about how much my little lecture about the process--and the attendant handout--accomplished.

I may do a little more work tonight, but I'm tired and I've not felt entirely healthy for weeks, so I also may opt to simply bail and head for home. It feels odd that it's Thursday--the first week is always weird, as it starts on what should be the second day--but I admit I'm glad as hell that it is.

Now, everyone, join in the chorus: "Back in the saddle again...."

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