First week Fall 2014

I’m writing this in the middle of the week, so I’ve only had Day 1 with two classes, though I did have Day 2 today with my MW section.

This fall, I am teaching two sections of what we call Dev 030, which is listed as ENG 030, “Introduction to College Writing,” in the course catalog. My third class is an interdisciplinary (elective) course in folklore, listed as IDS 102, “Urban Legends in American Society.” One section of ENG 030 is MW, and on TTh I teach IDS 102 and then the second section of ENG 030. Also, on Saturday the campus had its orientation and training day, and I ran a session on identifying and supporting critical thinking among our students. So I am reflecting on all of that today: the training session for faculty, the first day of all my classes, and the second day of the first section of ENG 030.

I am more stressed out than I thought I would be at the beginning of this semester. Since I have been teaching college for so long, and I’m usually pretty sure of myself as a semester starts, I didn’t expect to be off-balance. But this is my first semester as a full time employee of the college, and there are a lot of things to keep track of and do right that I never had to worry about before. I’ll say this: it is not as easy as just teaching three or four classes sounds. There’s a whole role to fill, with relationships and expectations and meetings and paperwork. I have to remember what other people do and make sure I show proper respect for their job responsibilities, so I don’t encroach on their authority or appear to question their professionalism or expertise. Even making sure I’m on campus when I am supposed to be is more difficult than it was when I was part time.

On the whole, though, I am very glad and grateful to be doing what I am doing. I know I am making mistakes, but I hope not too many, and none very bad. I have almost injured myself several times by accidentally sitting on the arm instead of the seat of my rolling office chair – that thing moves, and then I fall – but I found out today whom to ask to get the arms taken off and how to submit that request, so maybe I will be able to avoid a work-related injury. (If nobody will take the arms off for me, I will bring a hex wrench and do it myself. Because danger, Will Robinson.)

I have at least three students with paperwork from the Access Office for a registered disability, and I think I am supporting them appropriately so far. Two are pretty straightforward; they need my notes from each class period, and since I am documenting my lesson plans for their classes, I have notes to give them. In my IDS course, I have my first student ever on the autism spectrum (or at least the first student ever to tell me that he is on the autism spectrum). I’ve had lots of students with ADD/ADHD and anxiety and panic disorders, as well as second-language speakers of English, and one HH/formerly Deaf student. This one seems to be anxious about group work, about letting down his fellow students. I am using groups a lot in this course, but only to give one another support and feedback. This student will not be the only one giving support and feedback in the group, nor will anyone be graded on group projects unless they voluntarily sign up to work on a project with another student. Individual projects are fine. I am a little concerned about communicating instructions to this student; there was a tangle over whether the course text was available in the campus bookstore (it was, but he was sure it wasn’t), and we needed staff and parental help to get that all straightened out and get the book paid for. But it worked out. I guess we’ll just see.

Class communities seem to be burgeoning as I would wish. The only one I’m a little concerned about is the second 030 section, but that’s because we were all tired and hungry yesterday, and there was a lot of talking on my part and listening on theirs. It’s a hard time of day (right after lunch), and it will go better tomorrow, when we have activities. [crossing fingers]

The training session on Saturday went pretty well. There were a few people who did not like the way the information was presented (some activity, some discussion, more lecture), and there were some who apparently felt the conversation was too brainiac, and there were some who disagreed with my premises altogether, but some people really received what I offered and saw the benefit of that. It was a hard topic – critical thinking, what is it really, can it be taught, and an example of strategies that can support critical thinking in the classroom. When you have to start by defining your controversial topic, it’s going to be an uphill road. But it was good practice for me as I plan to present on this topic at conferences over the next few years.

Because of the opportunity to lead the training session on that topic, I was able to identify ways to improve my own teaching. This semester, as I am teaching two courses I have never taught before, I am creating lesson plans with explicitly stated learning objectives and teaching techniques. I used to do this when I first started teaching compostion, but when I knew my subject matter by heart, I stopped making the formal lesson plans. Now that I have an office to stash all my plans and materials in, the lesson plans make more sense. Also the new courses require me to plan, so I might as well record what I’m doing. So, one of the new things I am doing is telling the class right up front at the beginning of each period what the learning objectives are for that period. Today, it went over well.

Here is my lesson plan for ENG 030 Week 1 Day 2 Lesson Plan.

One thing I am circling in my mind was a possible misstep that I narrowly escaped today. The student of another teacher came on campus, huffing and sweating, and said he had taken the bus all the way from the city to get here before the teacher’s office hours were over, and he got there just as she was starting a class. I offered to find out which classroom she was in and go find her, but one of my co-workers who is a little less new than I am said that she didn’t think it was a good idea to interrupt class just as it was starting. She was right, of course, and what made her more right was that she is that teacher’s boss [Note 8-22-14: She’s not that teacher’s boss]. (Sometimes I forget that the newish people have major responsibilities, but that’s the way it is on a small campus like this. Someday my department coordinator will be department chair, and I will be department coordinator. Someday not that far away.) I wish I had thought that through faster. In order to double-check that she was correct (and possibly to convince me), she talked with one of the long-time professors who has been here since the campus was organized and who began teaching in the late sixties or early seventies. He basically said, “I don’t care what the student’s personal situation is. He can wait until the class is done.” This is the path of greatest respect for the teacher. I feel for the student, though. [8-22-14 Also, I really wish she hadn’t asked that professor. I wish she had just talked it out with me and not dragged the other guy into it. It was not his problem; it was ours.]

In this case, what the student wants is probably impossible – a copy of part of the textbook. The teacher probably doesn’t have the textbook on her today, and giving copies of parts of textbooks is sometimes okay in an emergency and if the amount is very small compared to the whole textbook, but if she did that, she would have to make copies available to all the students, and that’s a lot of work. Still, that’s for the teacher to decide.

My brain is full, and I am tired of playing nicely with others, at least for today. I need to go home and let the dog out.

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