Friday, August 24, 2012

And we're off!

I survived the first few days of the semester!   I'm kind of fried right now, after a whole week of poorly slept nights and constant improvisations of all sorts.  Let me see if I can get my thoughts ordered.
  • Three preps is going to kick my ass if I don't keep to a tight schedule.  I have to do an unusual amount of prep for Intro to Libel and Slander, since the substance as well as the form of the course is somewhat alien to me.  Pseudology of Area Studies requires relatively little prep, thank goodness; I've read everything we're going to study cover-to-cover, except for one text that I've only dabbled in.  (And I've already read the intro to that one.  As any pseudologist worth hir salt knows, the intro chapter of a pseudological monograph is the key bit.)  But it's my baby, Super Awesome Cool Stuff, that may kick my ass the most: I couldn't resist the temptation to assign a bunch of nifty-sounding texts that I have never read.  I'll just have to read them right along with my students, which means I probably won't get a decent night's sleep until December.
  • Being a new faculty member requires an odd balance of enthusiasm and reserve.  On the one hand, I obviously want to do a good job, and as my regular readers all know, I'm deeply grateful to have escaped from Godforsaken State.  On the other hand, I felt peculiar hanging out with a senior colleague yesterday.  Zi is a recently tenured pseudologist and seems to be stepping into the role of departmental mentor to me.  But of course, those who are tenured and have been around a while tend to develop grudges and complaints about some structural issues in any university.  It was, frankly, weird to feel hir dampening (or trying to dampen?) my enthusiasm for the job by venting to me about the administration's vision, the quality of the students, the ignorance of the alumni community, etc.  One just can't be all Pollyanna in the face of such unloading by a close colleague.  But I feel like I can't take on those attitudes, for a multitude of reasons.  First and foremost, of course, is that I'm not permanently tied to CBU, as zi is.  But stating out loud this lack of need for institutional loyalty feels discomfiting, even after we had a frank conversation about the impossibility of my staying past my two-year contract.
  • So far, I enjoy my classes in direct correlation to their academic levels.  The 100-level, Intro to Libel and Slander, may have its moments, but I can't even pretend to be deeply invested in it, nor to think much of the grade-grubbing kids with math anxiety who register for it to get a distribution requirement the easy way.  (I took my share of Science for Poets, but I would like to think that I never expressed to a professor my fear that I would actually have to, you know, like, know facts.)  
  • My 200-level, Pseudology of Area Studies, is much more promising than the intro course, even if all the students have is some native intelligence and the will to learn.  Explaining the basics of my area studies to even the most erudite undergrad can be a frustrating experience, but at least my students acknowledge that they feel out of their depth on some matters.  I'll have to walk a fine line between pushing them to think out loud and freaking them out because they recognize the limits of their own knowledge in some sensitive subjects.
  • My 300-level, Super Awesome Cool Stuff, could hardly be better so far.  I nearly applauded my students today at the end of our first session discussing a text.  It's a famous foundational text that I first encountered as a wee freshman, lo these many years ago, and which, as I ascertained, none of them has ever read before.  It's a doozy: complex and tangent-ridden prose style, littered with references to historical figures and literary quotations totally beyond their knowledge base, and predicated on some very difficult abstract concepts.  With just a little coaxing from me, they took that ball and ran with it.  They mused out loud about its implications, wondered what the author was trying to do, asked each other questions, and occasionally (very gently) critiqued each other's understanding of the text.  I actually had to cut short the discussion when time ran out: they literally talked right up to the end of the class period.  I told them, in all honesty, that I had never taught such a successful first day of class before.  If they can maintain this level of intellectual curiosity and engagement, then the course will be a real treat for me.
  • My kitchen is currently full of dirty dishes and glasses that I just can't be bothered to touch right now.  Something had to give during this first week, and it turned out to be my housekeeping.  I'll do a lot of clean-up tomorrow, but tonight, I'm just going to fall into bed, lulled by a cocktail and a considerable sleep deficit.
  • I suppose I also had to give up a little emotional stability, courtesy of the aforementioned sleep deficit.  When I'm underslept, I get more emotional.  I was reminded of this when I plopped myself down on my couch to listen to this podcast, and found myself sniffling regularly.  Time for bed, I'd say.


  1. Brief comment regarding your tenured colleague opinions:

    a) I have yet to find a faculty member that does not complain about the administration (myself included). The best you can find is liking some administrators and not others

    b) If your 300 level class went as you said, then the quality of the students at your school is more than fine. What you describe doesn't happen too often, specially if they are not motivated beforehand by the professor. It's a sign if intellectually curious students, and that's a blessing. Enjoy it, it's the best thing our profession has to offer.

    1. Thanks, SP! It's good to hear comment (B), especially after my colleague expressed such cynicism about our students. It's worth noting, though, that zi is highly complimentary of individual students whom zi knows. Perhaps I'll notice a pattern of general cynicism and specific optimism as time goes on.

      In any case, yes: I'm enjoying watching my students learn so actively.

  2. It sounds like things are off to a great start! I have never taught more than 2 preps, so I salute your cojones for being able and willing to do that. Just be patient and kind with yourself. Things will work out well.

    1. Hap, you'd be surprised what you're willing and able to do when your paycheck depends on it! I'll do my best to follow your advice.

  3. Your 300-level class sounds amazing. My experience teaching a research seminar last year was basically the exact opposite. I'm jealous. (I also want a copy of your syllabus for your 200. Given that I'm a fake-psuedologist, I want to see what I'm supposed to have read.)

    at least my students acknowledge that they feel out of their depth on some matters

    This is actually an awesome, awesome thing. And not a universal experience. But.

    Get some rest. The highs are wonderful, but the crashes are bitter.