Thursday, September 25, 2008

These Days...

I know I haven't been blogging as much lately; there are a couple reasons for this. Mostly it's because I've been busy with school and tutoring and teaching and just commuting. I also realized that I've been trying not to blog about teaching my English Composition (ENG 16) class because I'm trying to save all my tidbits about teaching for the New Teacher Podcast (which still hasn't gotten into a groove, largely because weekends are the only time I have, and the past few weekends, and next weekend, Chris and I have been out of town). I feel slightly guilty in admitting that I'm finding teaching so much more interesting than my own classes.

My own classes are fine, but I'm spending much more time thinking about and planning for my ENG 16 class that I have to force myself to get back to reading the assigned homework (and doing the corrosponding weekly writing). I have little to say in my Virginia Woolf class; I realized a few months ago that I had, in a sense, let that part of my brain just deteriorate as I concentrated and became more interested in the teaching of writing. Obviously, the teaching of writing is directly related to and intertwined with reading, but I have to keep really digging deeply, and working much harder at analyzing literature.

Analyzing lit never came as easily to me as did pedagogy and educational theory, and comparatively speaking I find the former less interesting than the latter, but perhaps less was expected of me, or the literature I read was more of what I was used to (American and British literature of the 17th-19th centuries, as opposed to more modern literature by authors I've been recently studying. As an undergrad I somehow took a lot of survey course, which I truly love/loved; I got a smattering of different authors and we rarely read more than one or two works, which suited me well; if I found a new author, I explored him on my own. But while two of the four graduate literature classes I've had have been about one author (Joyce and Woolf, in my case), another has been a survey-like course of African-American short stories, the other a survey-like course of South African novels. Joyce was difficult; I found him difficult; most people find him difficult; that's not new or surprising. Patricia's class (with the South African novels) was interesting, because it was new, but also heavy going for the same reason. The African-American short story class was interesting because short stories are my favorite, but I've taken a slew of classes about African-American literature. Thematically it's very popular, I'm guessing. And Woolf is, like Joyce, difficult; and similarly, others find her difficult; and similarly, it's understood and expected, or at least not surprising, that one might find her difficult. I have to, with a very sharp and pointy stick, quite emphatically poke open my literary analyzing skills. The MFA students are lovely to listen to because they pay attention to aspects of writing and language and creative process that I've allowed myself to not pay attention to anymore, which is a mistake and which I am duly rectifying.

The students I teach are also lovely, if it's possible to not overuse that word. They pretty much all come to class. They're nice, and polite, and they don't interrupt, either me or each other. They usually raise their hands. One kid came late, twice; two kids have been absent; but there's not mass absenteeism, and if they're sleeping, they're doing it with their eyes open. Their blog entries are not brilliant (yet), but they're all doing them, and more or less on time. They all handed in their first drafts of their cultural autobiography on time. Do you get that? They all handed in their first drafts on time. It's not a hard assignment, I guess, but still. I told them to call me by my first name; only once did I hear a student call me "Michelle." They keep calling me Professor Solomon which is unnerving only because I keep wanting to turn around and ask what my mother is doing teaching my class.

On Monday and Wednesday nights I have trouble falling asleep (and consequently I'm exhausted on Tuesdays and Thursdays) because I keep thinking of my ENG 16 class. I'm excited to get to class; I'm worried I'm not making class challenging enough or expecting enough of them (although they're going to be getting some more difficult reading beginning in October, as well as beginning actual research). I like that I had to buy chalk and that I have to make photocopies and that I still don't know how to use the departmental Xerox machine or send my things to Copy Services. I like having an office hour. I liked reading my students' first drafts - they were all really interesting - and I liked giving feedback in red pen. (In my tutoring sessions I've had students request my using a red pen because it's easier to read.)

I want to be graduated in May so I don't have to think about studying anymore.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Two Hats

So, I've been teaching for a week and a half now. So far I've managed to survive, which is a bonus. I think it says something that I've been more interested in teaching my class, and planning for it, than I have been taking my own classes as a student. In comparison I half feel that the two classes I'm taking as a student are a bit dreary, but I'm trying to chalk that up to still getting acquainted with the material. It's going to be somewhat heavy stuff; I'm not a fan of Virginia Woolf, but I'm trying to be open in reading her again, and more thoroughly, so perhaps whatever I read before (A Room of One's Own, which I'll be reading again for this class) will be better a second time around in context with the other work of hers I'm reading. The first set of readings for the literacy class was just painful; I really felt I was slogging through it with a minimal of understanding and just couldn't maintain any interest in it, but again, perhaps other material I read throughout the semester will be more to my liking.

The first couple of classes for the ENG 16 class (which would be the class I'm teaching) were more housekeeping related: Introductions, syllabi, class expectations, paperwork, etc. I gave my class a diagnostic essay on our second meeting, for which I gave them the entire class to write, so last Thursday was our first "real" day of class. Started out a bit bumpy - I couldn't get anyone to talk - but I had them do some impromptu writing, using on Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl" as a model for some in-class writing, then put them in groups and had them share their stories, and that seemed to break the ice. I had one student from each group read his or her story (one student got a really good laugh out of hers), and we managed to discuss the story in relation to cultural standards and expectations, which was a segue into the cultural autobiography I've assigned. On Tuesday we're spending the day in the computer lab, and on Thursday for at least half the class we'll be workshopping however much they've written. (The other half of the class two students will be leading the class discussion on Jaschik's "Sociology, Gender, and Higher Ed."

I officially have a podcast up for my teaching experiences. So far I have only the introductory episode up and running, but I recorded another episode today. I'm still figuring out GarageBand and how to upload the podcasts themselves, so I'm a bit more reliant on Chris than I'd like to be. Hopefully after a few more podcasts are up and running I won't need to ask him for help, at least with the basics.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fall 2008 Classes

I'm taking nine credits this semester; this works out to three classes, but one of those classes (three of those credits) is my writing my thesis, so aside from teaching a section of English 16 - English Composition - I'll be taking two classes:

English 579: Virginia Woolf and Modernism
Mondays, 6:10 – 8:00 pm

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is one of the most challenging and beautiful writers in the English language. Every time she began work on a new novel, she renewed her ambition to reinvent the genre and to make it penetrate to depths of human experience never before tried by writers of fiction. The course will trace the path from her early, tentatively realistic fiction (The Voyage Out), through her experimental short fiction of the late teens and early 1920s (“The Mark on the Wall,” “An Unwritten Novel”), to the achievement of her high modernist style in four major novels: Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves. Woolf was also an innovator in the art of the essay, and we will read some of her most famous works in the genre, including “Modern Fiction,” “On Being Ill,” and her revolutionary (and very funny) manifesto for women writers, A Room of One’s Own. Because Woolf was keenly interested in painting and was intimately associated with a circle of avant-garde artists, special emphasis will be placed on the intersection between verbal and visual art in her life and work.

Field trips to the Museum of Modern Art and the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library (which houses the largest collection of Woolf manuscripts in the world) will be arranged. In addition to on-going discussion, students will write a series of short essays in response to the readings, and one longer critical essay or creative term project.

English 641: Basic Writing and Literacy
Thursdays, 4:10 – 6:00 pm

In this course we will attempt to identify and understand what constitutes literacy in the academy and how “basic writers” are positioned within and against this term in their struggle to acquire academic discourse, a term we will also examine. We will investigate our own assumptions about literacy and test those assumptions against academy dictates and practices. We will problematize “Basic writing” in relation to theories and methods of teaching basic college writing. For example, is the social constructionist approach viable, or should students’ primary languages be included in the instruction and production of college writing? What is the relationship between reading and writing, and how might one inform the other? How might orality be utilized in the classroom to help students increase their awareness of standard English? How do we offer cohesive, productive instruction when students within the same class have different levels and types of literacy? The course will be particularly beneficial for students who plan to teach in academic institutions with students from diverse linguistic backgrounds.