Friday, August 22, 2008

The school year

This is a chance to ramble about various things on my mind as I prepare for the academic semester. It's disordered, narcissistic, but probably boring. But writing it out sort of mellows me out about it, and it's a blog, so it should be therapeutic, eh? There's a theory on dreams that you dream about whatever is on your mind a lot at the time, and it's just sort of the leftover stuff your brain is working through (at least this is my memory of something I learned in high school that really stuck with me). I think a post like this is like that sort of dream (goodness, what an atrociously dull dream though!): it's the extra stuff my mind works through around this time. By now you should know sufficiently well that you can ignore this.

Two fear usually get to me at the beginning of fall semester. First, I worry that after a long layoff, I've entirely forgotten how to teach. Second, after the complete openness of summer, I sometimes envision the academic semester as a time with zero free time as I'm consumed by work. But this year I don't feel terribly bothered by either fear. Perhaps entering my fifth year teaching, I'm confident enough to know I remember how to (at the very least) stand in front of the class, talk, and write on the board. And I know that during an academic semester, there is still plenty of time away to do what one enjoys, even including grading papers (I've found as an adjunct professor I have more free time than I had when I was a graduate student). So basically, I'll devote a lot of time and energy to my work, but I'll still watch heaps and heaps of football.

And frankly, I like my job. It's fun. I find it mentally stimulating and generally fulfilling. I look forward to teaching classes, and I enjoy interactions with students. So the beginning of a semester offers a lot to look forward to.

So then I worry about the technical details (I am Obsessive-Compulsive--it seems I must have something to worry about). Get copies of syllabi. Get new keys for the building. Get some texts scanned. Pull out documents from a folder. Pretty basic stuff that always gets done without a fuss, but I'll vex over it.

I've already started making a weekly list of tasks. It makes me feel good: I've got a fixed list of what I actually need to do, and I get to cross things off to feel accomplishment. Today I did something that I hadn't already put on the list (wrote a Vikings column for a Minnesota sports blog I've started contributing to in addition to my own sports blog), and after completing it, I wrote it on the list just so I could cross it off and look at it crossed off. I did a lot of these lists in grad school, and it's a good habit, I think. It helps me relax: I don't have to worry about what I might have to do, because I can look at the list. This somehow allows me to enjoy my free time more.

This semester I'm experimenting with some of my courses, trying something new (I never want it to get stale). In comp class, I used to have a unit in the middle of the semester that ended in a midterm. I've dropped that (shifting many of the readings for that unit to the fourth paper unit, a Public Policy Proposal paper), and will be just bulking up each existing unit. There will be challenges in stretching the same content out, each unit lasting a few more class periods. I think it will work better, and it will give me more time in class to focus on technical writing issues.

But the bigger change comes in a lit course I'm teaching. It's a general education literature course titled "Types of Literature." I get to teach a wide assortment of novels, short stories, plays, and poetry. In the past, I've arranged the syllabus not by literary genre, but by theme (meaning it was organized almost randomly--the thematic complexities of most of the works don't easily fit into one thematic unit, and could almost be interchangeable). This semester I'm teaching it by genre, so we'll start with all the short stories we'll read, then read all the plays, then read some novels, and finish with some weeks of poetry. I really don't know how that will go, how the students will handle it. I'm also worried I didn't leave enough time for poetry (can one ever?), because sometimes the poetry takes 2-3 times longer to cover in class than I expect (such is life when the class is guided by student discussion).

But the time is almost near to stop throwing on shorts and a polo shirt in the morning; soon, I'll have to throw on pants and a polo shirt.

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