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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The enrollment shuffle ends--at last

Although withdrawals will still go on, yesterday was the close of the "add" period, so I won't have any new bodies in my classes--except, perhaps, the appearance of some who have been AWOL. Over the weekend, I noted on Facebook that a student had sent me an e-mail: he was newly registered in the earlier section of 101 and wanted to know what he'd missed. I sent him all the needed information, got very polite replies--and today, he'd withdrawn from the class. A completely different new student has taken his place on the roster, but that student was conspicuously absent from class today and has not contacted me at all. Somehow, I don't think this new young man is primed for success. One other late registrant who was in class on Thursday has also withdrawn. Fair enough.

There's been less shifting around in the later section. One student was absent the first day. She showed up on Thursday, filled with energy and verve--and wanted to chat with me after class. She told me she loves a challenge, that she spent the summer soul-searching and has returned to college with renewed energy, determination and drive, oh, so very perky and ready to be the star, teacher's pet. And today? Absent again. Uh-huh. I had my suspicions, and they've been confirmed. If she does return to class, I'll have to tell her she's already in a hole and had better stop digging.

One student also withdrew from Fiction Writing--the one I thought I saw in the Bradley Hall lobby yesterday. I don't know why she withdrew, especially since she said she wants to pursue something in the English field, already has a B.A. in art.... Of course I want to speculate, but I'll just have to resign myself to the mystery. Who knows.

Before I get to talking about today's classes, however, I want to say that I'm already feeling frazzled about committee work. One of the new (actually returning) members of P&B mentioned that the committee description for the departmental assessment committee might need updating--and that we probably also needed to have on file descriptions of the various ad hoc committees, most of which I've been on. This is paperwork that is largely used for promotion folders: rather than each individual reinventing the wheel in describing what the committee does overall, we simply include the blanket description and then write up our own unique contributions to that overall work. I was reminded that I need to be sure I have the description for each committee I've been on for my own promotion folder, but more exasperating, albeit necessary, is the revision and/or creation of committee descriptions. Please god let me not be the one who has to do that, for any of them.

The fires are already being lit under the Tasksteam subcommittee of assessment, too, and man, I want to run screaming from the room every time someone even says the word "Taskstream." I do not not not want to have to grapple with all the things we still need to do in order to be in compliance (a word I particularly detest) with Taskstream requirements. Fuck. Ah well.

I'm interested to note that for at least part of the P&B meeting, my knickers were in a knot because I was not nominated to be the secretary. Note that this position is separate from recording secretary--the person who actually takes the minutes: the "secretary" is really more of a vice-chair, runs meetings if/when Bruce is unable to--which actually and quite unusually will happen twice this semester. I've been secretary for the last few years, which seems logical, given my position as Bruce's assistant, and the person nominated actually might as well be Bruce's assistant or co-chair or something. She is, I grant you, far more energetic, motivated, and productive than I will ever be, and she deserves to be treated as indispensable to the running of the department--because she is. My pouting fit was simply my vanity kicking in, my desire to be formally acclaimed princess. Not only is Cathy completely appropriate as the person to run P&B meetings in Bruce's absence, as I will be on sabbatical in the spring, it doesn't make sense for me to have the position only to have to turn it over to someone else in December. I'm amused to see just how much my ego gets attached to these things that I profess to find little more than a pain in the patoot.

Classes, I'm delighted to report, were not at all a pain in the patoot. In fact, I think they went tremendously well. Fortunately, I've requested that I have access to a laptop with a projector attached, so I can show students things on the computer during class. I could type in the "Daily 25"--faster and neater than writing it on the board. I also realized that I wanted students to start thinking about their first papers--but hadn't planned to hand out the paper assignment until next class. Oops. But, aha! I went to my own faculty home page, downloaded the paper assignment, and was able to project exactly the part I wanted them to focus on.

For each paper topic, I've given a huge overall topic--this first paper, it's "The Problem with Education in America Today"--and instead of providing more of a prompt, I've followed that big, vague topic with a quotation that I hope will spark conversation. So, first I had students write down their notes about what they saw in the quotation; then I asked them to use the quotation and their own experience to start making notes about what they think the problem (or some problems) with education might be. The quotation in question follows:

“Education is good just so far as it produces well-developed critical faculty . . . A teacher of any subject, who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision, is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded . . . They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence . . . They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens.” (W. G. Sumner. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals, New York: Ginn and Co., 1940. 632-633. From The Critical Thinking Community, “Sumner’s Definition of Critical Thinking. July 23, 2014. Web.)

I followed classic "Active Learning" strategy. First, they wrote down their own ideas; then I put them in small groups to share ideas; then we talked about their ideas with the class as a whole. The other thing that I think worked well about the task is that we'd just been talking about annotation and notes, which had been the subject of their reading in the handbook for today and which they will apply to the first article I provided as their homework for Thursday. So they were doing a little mini-practice in class of what they will do in more detail as homework--and they already have a sense that their annotations and the expanded notes from their annotations will help them formulate ideas for their papers.

And they got into it. They were very interested in the ideas in the quotation. Again, the students in the later section understood the language better than those in the earlier section, but both classes were deeply interested in the ideas, and both classes loved having a chance to talk about what they think about problems with education. Clearly, the topic is of concern to them, and the fact that I'm not ramming my ideas at them but am asking for theirs is getting them jazzed. One student in the later section has been involved in her community, fighting for school budgets, and she's practically jet-propelled with excitement about the fact that she gets to write a paper in which she can air her (very strong) views. One student in the earlier section, who I'd have sworn was far from a fan of me or my methods, said today, as he was leaving, "I love this class."

O hallelujah! I can't say for sure, but I'm getting the feeling that this approach may actually work. Wouldn't that be a thrill? I'm serious: I'm as jazzed as they are. I grant you, they have yet to encounter my insistence "on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods," and some no doubt will balk--both classes mentioned the fact that some students do not want to learn, are content to coast, don't want to be challenged (oh, how true)---but they really are getting the sense that they can own the material, that it matters, that they have a voice, something to say. Glory be.

I'm so ecstatic about this I don't know how I'll manage to wind down, but this is a terrific high to take with me as I leave campus. May it sling-shot me into an equally wondrous day tomorrow.

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