Thursday, May 29, 2008

End of the First Year on the Tenure Track: Part Two - Teaching

This should be an easy one, yes? I have some experience setting up new classes and I taught almost exclusively things that I'd taught a few hundred times (it seemed) or things I'd read closely as a grad student TA. While I was trying to crank an article out by the end of the first semester, everyone was saying, "Don't worry about it - no one expects you to get any real research done your first year! Just get used to teaching your classes!"

Ha! I would smirk at them and think, "get used to teaching? Dude, puh-lease. I could do this in my sleep..."

(*picture of cocky jr faculty member getting ready to be smacked down*)

Now, teaching did go....fine. I wasn't a sensation. And I'm sorta used to being a sensation (and I don't mean this to be a shithead, although you're all thinking that right now). What I realized is that, yeah - if you have NO OTHER JOB OBLIGATIONS AT ALL, you can be a crackerjack teacher - everybody's fave. But I was always used to teaching in a vacuum - I was used to teaching like none of it mattered past this semester. Like I didn't have to think about getting tenure or (dare I say it?) a reputation.

And that last word brings me to another point. I've always been a fair grader, but that wasn't foremost on my mind (although a lot of people thought I was psychotically hard, apparently). I was, however, thinking about what kind of rep (English Department "street cred", if you will) I was carving out for myself. Was I going to be the one you hoped to take the Med-Ren survey with? Did you desperately want to take my Chaucer class if you could? The answer is, most students couldn't give a rat's butt. The more germane question for students is, "is the class being taught at 9:30 am? Is there room left in the 2:30 section?"

The thing I realized is that it doesn't really matter that much. I'm a good teacher and I'll always get good/decent evaluations. Some semesters I'll be able to dedicate more energy to teaching - the semester when I'm working up my tenure dossier? Probably not so much.

Two cool things happened this year regarding teaching:

1) After my grad class, several students said they were taking my next one, which gave me a warm fuzzy. BUT, a couple of days later I received an email from one of my students - he was one of the "cool" kids who I knew was only in there because of the requirement. He is very smart, but seemed disengaged throughout some of the class. The email was a more personalized addendum to the course evaluation they'd done at the end of the semester. "Oh, god," I thought. However, it was the most conscientious, thorough, most totally constructive evaluation I've ever received, bar none. He talked about how he'd inititally just wanted to get through my course, hadn't been interested at all. But, then he'd become very invested in the things we discussed and in his final project (for which he was able to incorporate some of his own interests - it was a great paper). His suggestions were spot on and I'll be incorporating almost all of them. So, all the angst I felt this semester was worth it, I think.

2) When I went to our departmental graduation ceremony, our chair also takes a minute to point out any special awards or grants that the faculty have won. Everyone claps for everyone and the parents get a glow knowing that their kids were taught by people who can, actually, read and write. I received a grant this year and when the chair read my name, about 8 of my former students who were graduating all whooped really loud. It made me happy.

Funny Addendum:
Some of you may remember my stupid existential crisis about getting a blue frowny face on RMP (I gave the little shit the stink eye at graduation, too. Because I'm petty and childish...). I looked again recently and saw something that I will actually wear as a badge of honor (and this is the gist of the rating, although I've corrected the spelling mistakes, which is why the student probably got a C):

Green "So-So" Face:

Prof. MW is a very nice person and very funny. However, her class is *insanely* hard! She takes attendance EVERY DAY and she expects us to have read this HUGE book BEFORE class! (I.e, the 5 poems we'll be discussing out of the Norton Anthology, kids). She gives three REALLY HARD tests and we have to take tons of notes in her lectures. I thought this would be an easy class, but I'm struggling to get a C! It's SO unfair!!



Hilaire said...

I totally hear you on this, about how teaching changes when you're on the tenure track. Hoo boy - does it ever! This was a great post - I was happy to realize that I'm not the only one who feels this way!

Can't believe that eval!

Matthew Gabriele said...

Totally sympathize and congrats on your recognition. TT teaching is indeed very different, since you have those other obligations.

Flavia said...

Mwahahaha! What a great eval--love it when they don't even realize they're doing you a prop with a critique like that.

Sounds like it's been a great year, overall, at the DA and that you're settling into a pedagogical and scholarly persona you can be proud of. Rock on!

Sisyphus said...

Ha! Yay for the evil hardass graders! Wear that greeny face with pride!

And learn how to do the deep, evil, maniacal laugh in front of the class...

Belle said...

I always taught 'hard' - am known as the dept hard ass. But you know how good it is when the students tell you they really learned and got engaged... I love those moments.