2015-2016 School Year in Review

It has now been one full school year since I started at my current teaching position. So this month, I am going to reflect on what I have learned about teaching and scholarship from this new start just over a year ago.

One of the things that goes along with a tenure track job is summer school teaching. I have never taught one of these, nor have I taught a night class. I have taken both, though not recently. Yet starting next week, I will be teaching a major level course on Renaissance literature sans Shakespeare two evenings a week, with a third evening online. The two weeks I have between the end of the spring semester and the start of the first summer school term are being split between preparing two conference papers to be given over the summer, and the rest of the time on preparing for class.

This is also my first hybrid course (part online, part in person).  I have taught classes with online components, but never regular class periods. I have noticed in other courses that when I assign reading from online sources, students either don’t do it (at a higher rate than with paper) or don’t have access to the text in class, which makes for difficult in class teaching. I have also frequently posted online supplementary material that students either don’t consult or don’t cite. It bothers me that most students would rather go to Shmoop or similar than check something out that has been vetted and recommended by me. I have lost track of how many times I’ve explained why Shmoop is not a good source to use, even though entries supposedly are authored by Ivy League graduate students. First, I don’t think students know that, and second even if authors were named, these kinds of things stop students from doing any kind of critical thinking about a text; instead, they just accept and use what the website says.

I am fairly certain that students at an upper level should know better, but we shall see. To set an example, I have cited all outside sources for all my lecture notes. I am hopeful this will encourage students to check out the sources themselves. I will likely have to wait until the end of term projects and evaluations where I ask students about the best and worst thing about class, and best and worst text (I do this in most classes) to whether or not this tactic will work. Given the subject matter, Luminarium.org will feature prominently as will the websites of several major research libraries, including the Folger Shakespeare Library and the British Library. If I can get all of my lecture notes set up before class starts I will be happy. The way things are going now, I might just make it.

On a different but related note, not too long ago I saw an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about work-life balance concentrating on publishing output. Among its conclusions and proposals were the idea that scholars who take time off for a life actually publish more, and of course the standard advice about planning and scheduling writing/research time. I didn’t know the first, but the second recommendation is pretty much ubiquitous in these kinds of articles. Even though it’s stuff I already know, sometimes a reminder is useful. I’m going to try a self-imposed rule for when class is in session: thou shalt write/research thine own stuff for at least 1 hour a day, with Sundays off. We will see how this turns out.

Something I promised myself at the beginning of this year was to make more time for personal, fun reading. I have managed to start making a dent in my to-read pile, but there is still plenty to go. I have found that public accountability like a reading goal is useful. For this, I am thankful to Goodreads (the book based social media site- it has a yearly reading challenge where you can set and track a goal for the number of books you read in a year) and Cannonball Reads, a review and discussion based site that uses its recommendations to raise money for the American Cancer Society. When you sign up at the beginning of the year, you commit to a certain number of reviews for the year.  For me, the problem is less the reading, but finding the time for the reviewing. This is my second year, and I think this time around, I am managing my time better.

This summer will be busy, not just because I’m teaching but also because I have two conferences and a good friend’s wedding to prepare for and attend, and then school starts in mid-August. I will also get to start learning more about the university bureaucracy, as I learn how to work the student advising system, prepare for my first year of committee work aka service, try to navigate funding proposals-procedures, and get ready for the fall semester.

I will sign off with a few observations about how medieval things fit into all of the above. I have yet to teach a strictly medieval literature course (this could happen next summer- fingers crossed) but I have managed to bring in the medieval to all but one class. Another goal for the summer is to figure out if there is a reasonable way to include medieval literature in a Composition 101 type class. Anybody got any ideas?

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Coming back to a project for purposes of repurposing a little

I am coming back to a project I’d started over a year ago to adapt it into a conference paper, namely John Gower’s possible use of disputation in the Confessio Amantis.  One of the first things I had to do was re-read what I had. My first reactions were not what I expected. First reaction- wow, there’s a lot of footnotes/scholarship. Second- this is actually pretty good (for the re-purpose). Normally when I go back to something, my ideas have either changed or I just plain don’t like/agree with what I said or how I said it.

Shocker number two was that in the process of refocusing what will hopefully eventually become a book chapter into a conference paper, I now have a much clearer idea of a thesis for the chapter.

Original: The fourth rhetorical model, the debate, has gone largely unnoticed in the scholarship of Gower’s poem.  References to and instances of debate or disputation are scattered throughout the poem, but the instances in which Genius and Amans are involved are indicative of the importance of debate and disputation as influences on the poem. By tracing references to and moments of debate between Amans and Genius in the Confessio, debate-disputation becomes a new way to trace Amans’ journey of transformation from troubled lover to accepting soul at peace with himself.

Current: In spite of theses similarities, the fourth rhetorical, the debate, has gone largely unnoticed in the scholarship of Gower’s poem.  The first three rhetorical models model {after sermons, love complaint, and confession} share one major obstacle that disputation avoids: they do not allow for free interaction between the two speakers. By tracing the exchanges of disputative language and reasoning between Amans and Genius, disputation become a way to trace Genius’ influence and Amans’ evolving perspective as the result of active participation on both sides of the discussion.

This really should not surprise me though; when I was preparing a paper for a different conference this past fall, a proposal and paper I wrote only to fill in a panel I was presiding over, I ended up with an idea that I hope eventually will make a good article. We’ll have to wait and see. I do wonder though if this is a normal pattern. I don’t mind it, but we’ll have to see if it continues.

In the process of getting reacquainted with the previous work I’d done, I was reminded of why ILL is such a wonderful service to have and why librarians are fabulous people. In order to review the scholarship and citations that I hadn’t looked at in a while, I had to order nearly all of the books this way.  Since I ordered all at the same time and they came from mostly the same partner library, they all showed up at the same time. I was expecting that they would appear about the same time, but when I went to pick up what I thought was one book, I got the whole stack. The librarian checking me out wondered what was going on with the load of books he had to retrieve from the ILL shelf and process (it was at the end of the semester after all), then saw the faculty id and figured out “Conference paper?”  I saw the same librarian in the wellness center nearly a month later and he remembered me (or the stack of books he had to retrieve).

On a related note, a new twist for me is that I also have to remember when each book is due back because my school library does not do that. I almost got in trouble once, but thanks to that scare I have developed a strategy revolving around colored Post-Its, which are wonderful things. I probably could program my phone or an online calendar to send me reminders, but this way is faster. Another reminder that organization is important, not just with research information and ideas.

All together, this is a pretty good position to be in at the beginning of the summer (when most college teachers do a lot of research and lesson planning). I have 2 conferences to finish papers for, both of which have promise for publication. I am also facing teaching my first upper level English class this summer (exciting but a little scary), so I’m going to need to be really careful about balancing teaching and scholarship. To be continued…..