Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Teaching badly

Does anyone else feel as if their teaching has completely bottomed out? I just feel like I've descended into shite. I don't know what's happened. It didn't happen like this last year or the year before. But I feel as if things have taken a downturn in the second half of both classes. It was more pronounced in the upper-year course, I think, but definitely there in both. I've always had very high teaching evaluation scores, but I am quite nervous about the evals this year. I dread them, especially for the upper-year course, the members of which seem essentially to have been asleep for the last two weeks. Ugh. I am so happy next week is the last week of classes - I must regroup and find my good teaching self again over the holidays!

7 comments:

Dr. Crazy said...

You know, I had this same problem in my first few years on the t-t (it took some time to work out the kinks from class to class). One thing I've realized that helps in my situation is to end with material that is more "fun" - so now, rather than having an "even" syllabus throughout each course, I tend to front-load each syllabus with the most challenging stuff and then when students are freaking out over papers and tests and things, the material ends up being the more "fun" stuff in the semester. The level of discourse thus stays high and students remain more engaged, in part because they *want* to do the stuff at the end, even though it's still added work. This might be something for you to consider as you think about future syllabi (although, of course, it does mean you're pandering to your audience a bit... but then it also means that you'll be more into things too because just as the students are into doing the "fun" stuff, so too will you be).

Earnest English said...

For me, my classes haven't descended in the second half per se, but sort of didn't start off well, then went down and only sort of let up being truly awful when I just gave up and accepted that this is going to be the semester of teaching shite. So now when I enter the class at the end of the day that I know I really don't know how to teach very well, I'm just tired and sheepish and loopy -- and I don't fight it at all. They seem to be doing okay, in spite of the fact that I know that this is not my best teaching subject. (My expectations are so low at this point that I really enjoy watching them take initiative in the assignments and do interesting things.) But I wonder how much my sense of bad teaching really has to do with being in a new place and everything being so relentlessly and unforgivingly new. At those moments when I need to have one thing go right in my (academic) life, and usually what would fill the gap is my teaching, the teaching is just not doing that. I know it's because I haven't figured out the new context or the students or the content or anything and I don't feel like I have the time or mental resources to really regroup and fix anything (if only I knew what to fix easily - ha!). But I wonder for you Hilaire how much it is that your teaching has turned to shite in the second half and how much it is teaching (and the giving of self that implies at a time when, let's face it, some of us may not have a lot left to give!) in the context of the move, Scary City, Scary City U, missing your beloved, and realizations that you can't stay there forever. Really we should not be berating ourselves for not having found our good teaching selves yet, I think, but that we managed through the wretched newness of. . .everything this semester. We're almost through with it. That's got to be enough, no?

neophyte said...

It's not just you. Your students are exhausted, too. They need to pull their weight -- and when they don't, it must feel like an anchor's been tied around your ankles. I like Crazy's suggestion for dealing with that liability.

In case it helps: most of the second-to-last session of a class I'm really enjoying this term was a gab fest about, alternately, how to persuade the person who deals with money for humanities research to fund a class trip to Antwerp, what kinds of beer we would drink there between trips to the printing museum, and which are our favorite bits of Showtime's Tudors series. I forgive the prof for permitting - in fact, fostering - this atmosphere, and if someone asks me to write an eval he'll still get stellar marks.

Brain-fades can't be helped. Remember that it will pass, and you'll emerge shortly back into stellarness.

kermitthefrog said...

Exactly what neophyte said! Student fatigue = painful classes.

Hilaire said...

You are all darlings.

Crazy, it's funny - this is what I have done. I made the end of each course FUN! (And, in the case of one course, cut the reading load in half for each class.) I even said that explicitly to the first years last week - "The next unit is going to be a fun note to end on." However. By fun I mean popular culture, and I just HATE doing stuff about contemporary pop culture in my teaching. I have a real block against it. I didn't factor this into the fun-planning - that it wouldn't be fun for me. Instead, it just tires and overwhelms me. And then I get annoyed because the talk just so easily devolves into inanity. Hmmm...Must rethink fun. It's funny - there was so much more energy at the beginning, with the ostensibly MUCH harder material that I, as you say, front-loaded the course with. I just had way more to say about it, and my stance was a little contagious. I get most excited with historical examples, and I've been shocked at how excited the first-year class gets by *eighteenth-century* stuff we looked at. Perhaps I need to rearrange...

Earnest, I think you are so right. A lot of it is in my head, and it's about a generalized discomfort with my life right now. Combined with the knowledge that I am leaving for four weeks - in just 2 1/2 weeks from now. And I like what you say about not having the mental energy, in the face of all the weirdness and newness, to try and fix it. So true. This means that I can't wait for the blank page of next term!

Neophyte and Kermit, of course, you are right. This has largely to do with student fatigue. But it's just that I think I've been able to drag more out of them in past years than I am this time. That I've been able to work past the exhaustion. But I think that my own non-interest in the material, and my relative unhappiness with life in general, combine to make it feel impossible to work past it. But I am not superwoman. Exhaustion is real, and I am facing it myself right now. Yes

dbm/gaa said...

I teach pop culture constantly, and it is easy to have the discussion spiral into lame conversations, too-personal anecdotes and the like. I try and keep a very firm hand on the tiller in these discussions, going so far as to cut people off and remind them to stick to the material; I constantly say "what does this have to do with the theory we are studying here?" to keep people on track. It mostly works, but it also highlights that just because some of the content comes from the realm of 'entertainment' it doesn't mean it is exactly fun! And some students don't like being told that they have to analyse things that they a) consider full or b) hold dear (this is often the hardest position if you do pull the scales from their eyes).

Hang tough, the term is almost over, the evaluations won't be as horrid as you think they might be.

medieval woman said...

Hey there - I feel the same way, although it's probably been because T-giving was coming up and their brains were in pre-emptive turkey comas.

But it's a lull in the semester - my guess is if you ask any colleague - they'll be having the same thing...

Yay for classes almost being done!