Sunday, August 28, 2011

Well begun is half done.

If Mary Poppins is right, then I'd say the semester is half over. Actually, we're a week and a half in. The add deadline has passed, so the enrollment has stabilized and much of the initial business (explaining rules and assignments) is over. I have a good group of students all 'round, though I worry about the 3:40 class's sleepiness--it's a bit soon in the semester to start that. My British Lit students seem enthused about the material, especially but not only the Austen fans. I'm looking forward to starting Pride and Prejudice this week.

The big challenge so far has been technology. I have one computer classroom where I have an instructor's computer with ethernet, but everywhere else I've been struggling with the extremely slow WiFi which often prevents me from loading Blackboard. One of my classes had no technology, but another lecturer graciously switched with me--hurrah! One class just has a Smart Board, which means the students on the far side of the room can't see anything. I may have to break down and actually hand out papers in that class.

Oh, and I have a cold. Ah-choo!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pater on the Value of Play

"Often such moments are really our moments of play, and we are surprised at the unexpected blessedness of what may seem our least important part of time; not merely because play is in many instances that to which people really apply their own best powers, but also because at such times, the stress of our servile, everyday attentiveness being relaxed, the happier powers in things without are permitted free passage, and have their way with us." --Walter Pater, "The School of Giorgione," The Renaissance

Fresco attributed to Giorgione (ca. 1498)
Here Pater is talking about the pleasure that comes from listening to music or to life in general, but I think it applies in the classroom as well. When my work is playful, I do my best work. When class is playful, students are at their most creative. We're not servile; we're masters of ourselves, at least for that moment.

I'm really enjoying re-reading The Renaissace. Pater is a wonderful stylist. I didn't appreciate him at all in grad school. I've put a section of his work on my British Culture syllabus, which has a heavy emphasis on discussions about art. Hopefully the majors will be more interested in such things than my gen-ed students were when I last tried them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Excitement of the New

The students are coming! The students are coming!

One of the great pleasures of my job is interacting with students new to the university. They're nervous and excited about this new step in their lives, full of curiosity and hopes and lofty goals. I was the same way. I remember how at band camp in my freshman year we would self-mockingly use advanced vocabulary in our everyday speech because "we're in college now." We didn't sweat; we perspired. We weren't tired; we were fatigued. Unfortunately, for me and for many others, this bloom soon passed and we got caught up in the grind.

How can we keep this excitement going? Is it doomed to fade like the rose? How can we encourage new growth?

Perhaps one way is to make sure that each course provides a Significant Learning Experience. The point of a course is not what we teach, but what the students learn. Keeping that in mind will help keep the courses fresh for us as teachers and hopefully for the students as well.