Sunday, October 30, 2011

Teaching Philosophy

The last few days I've participated in discussions about teaching both in person and online.  As I'm working on updating my teaching philosophy (or rather, writing a new one from scratch) for a teaching award, these discussions have been quite timely.  Once again, I feel quite grateful to have had the teaching prep at UT-K that I did--even if my pedagogy class was not my favorite thing I've ever done, having such a close cohort and so many different kinds of training before I was in charge of my own classroom prepared me for teaching so much better than I might have been at other places.

One aspect of teaching which continues to bother me is how much animosity there seems to be in the classroom.  Reading this today was quite synchronicity, after last night talking to friends about the rampant feelings of frustration felt by teachers which often seems to come out as lack of respect for students.  Certainly, it's frustrating to try to teach college students who often will send emails or write papers containing sentences so poorly spelled and constructed that sometimes I have to ask my husband for his best guess at what the writer intended.  And the plagiarism and excuses and half-assed work can certainly lead to suspicion, fatigue, and offense that students would actually think they could get away with some of the shenanigans they attempt.

(I started feeling myself getting curmudgeonly there, so I just decided to dive right into the curmudgeonliness with a word choice like "shenanigans.")

I also realize, though, that none of these things have to do with me personally.  When students try to cheat, or turn in poorly-executed assignments, I realize that they're not actually thinking, "That'll really piss off that bitch!" about me.  More likely, they're sleep-deprived, or freaked out about a relationship or a test or their job or any of a hundred other things.  In the middle of grading sixty-some assignments, though, or noticing someone texting in the middle of class, it can be easy to lose sight of.

With all of this in mind, I rewrote my teaching philosophy to submit for this award.  Suggestions?

In all of my classes, my ultimate goal is to engage my students in the material.  I begin from what scholar Kevin Porter describes as a pedagogy of charity, one which assumes that students are rational beings who come to the classroom with an intention to learn and be successful.  While I am not na├»ve enough to imagine that every student who enters a first year composition class is excited about writing an assigned position paper, I work to present material in myriad ways, so that students of differing learning methods will find ways to engage with the material. My fundamental commitments are to having a process-oriented and student-centered classroom, which means that I’m interested in my students’ expectations and needs, and I’m not afraid to change my methods in order to better meet my students needs.  At the same time, however, I expect a level of engagement and participation from my students which I feel is necessary for their own success.

As I teach composition and general education level courses, I realize that my students represent a variety of backgrounds, competence levels, as well as levels of interest, and I take it as a challenge to implement a variety of teaching methods to engage my students at whatever position they arrive at my classroom from.  I structure assignments to emphasize learning as a process: in this way, I’m not only ensuring that my students are never sitting the night before a major assignment is due staring at a blank page.  This also reinforces a more basic principle that academic success is best achieved through regular study and work, rather than last-minute cramming and all-nighters.  

Whether I’m teaching a composition class or a more content driven general education class, I ultimately want my students to learn the skills of analysis and research.  In the classroom, I use a combination of lecture (with PowerPoint presentations to highlight key terms) along with video presentations, classroom group work, and in-class writing and revision.  Even in larger general education class, participation counts for ten percent of students’ final grades; this reinforces the value I place upon student engagement in their own learning process.  Additionally, I encourage students to find research and writing topics about which they’re excited already—the best student writing occurs when students are excited about their writing.  And such excited translates into an interest and a willingness to expend the necessary effort to take their work to the next level.

Even in more content-driven general education classes, I work to make the material relevant to my students.  In every class, I begin the semester with a larger discussion of the purpose of the humanities in education, in order directly address the concerns or resentments of students who might be resistant to requirements which put, say, engineering majors into a poetry class.  I start classes by acknowledging that while not everyone may go into a class sharing a love of the content, the skills and content of such class do translate into a critical consciousness which is necessary not only for higher education in general, but educated citizenhood in general.   This not only provides an opportunity for students to vent their own frustration (and often their own passions about the subject, too), but it also gives my classes a foundation of honest communication.  I strive for transparency to my teaching methods and desire a reciprocal candor from my students, and have been generally pleased with the learning environment such openness can result in.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Moebius To-Do List

After a weekend during which I valiantly struggled to accomplish things, while my body staged giant protests (I went to be Friday night and slept for seventeen hours), everything is packed and ready to go for a big day tomorrow.  10:30-12 is the EGSA grad student panel presentation, where I'm getting to do a practice run of my Flannery O'Connor paper looking at Wise Blood together with the Ministry song "Jesus Built My Hotrod" (which samples dialogue from the film).  At noon, I professor I admire is speaking, and then in my class at 3 I'm presenting on Selah Saterstrom's The Pink Institution.  Once those are done, I can cross more things off of my list.

Sort of.  The O'Connor paper is a dry run for the Flannery O'Connor Society Panel at SAMLA, the primary reason I wrote the paper, which is the first weekend in November.  I wrote the abstract as a bit of a lark--as SAMLA's theme this year is poetry, it looked like the O'Connor Society was having trouble getting proposals (I assume, as they extended their deadline).  Since seeing the movie and realizing where the "Listen--get this: No one with a good car needs to be justified" bits from the Ministry song came from, I've toyed with writing up something about the juxtaposition of the two.  Who knew they'd actually say yes?  And that I'd have to come up with a coherent argument in only eight pages?  (As time goes on, the small scope of a conference paper seems more and more difficult.)

But, I've written something now--thank goodness for my discovery of the "technological sublime," as well as the weird phenomenon that a lot of punk musicians seem to have a thing for the novel.  I'll be glad to give it a go-through in front of other people and see just how many of them just stare at me as though I'm high.

And then in class, I picked a rather experimental/metatextual/nothing's been written about it novel to present on.  I'm not too terribly worried about it, as I've come up with some things to say.  I turned in a response paper about it, too, which means I've written the required number of response papers for the class.  And, as this is my last required course, it means it's the last such short assigned paper I'll do for school.  Weirdness.  I mean, I'm auditing a course next semester, but I won't have to do response papers if I'm auditing.  It's a nice, small milestone to recognize. 

In the midst of all of this to-do-list-crossing off, however, I got news that an article I wrote on Maria Montero's The Messenger was accepted for publication pending revisions.  Revisions are due in three weeks.  One of the requests from the readers was more secondary sources, which means read read read!  Happily, the wonderful professor (who is speaking tomorrow) already responded to my email with suggestions for reading.  I haven't actually looked at the drafts they sent back--after my talks tomorrow, I'll look at them.  I have to be on campus Wednesday for reading group and a student meeting, so I'll officially start tackling the revision then.

I'm still feeling occasional anxiety attacks, but between the days of sleep this weekend and the drumming I did today, it currently feels under control. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

A better day

After my less-than-stellar experience presenting Wednesday, Thursday I started the day by having my teaching evaluated.  (I might add that this was not automatic; I requested the evaluation.  Since I've been at LSU, no one besides my students has seen me teach.)  The new director of Women and Gender Studies sat in on my 10:40 section of Intro to WGS.  Though I enjoy both of my sections,  there are many more engaged, participatory students in my 10:40 class than there are in my noon one. 

Class went so well.  Tuesday I had handed out the final paper assignment, in which students will do a researched analysis of some sort of pop culture product; Thursday's reading was about gender construction in pop culture.  In introducing the concept of the "male gaze," I showed a short clip of Ripley in her underwear in Alien, and contrasted that with the scene in Firefly where Captain Mal is completely naked.  As I think the concept of the "male gaze" can be overused and a bit abstract, I was quite happy with how distinctly different the camera work is in these two different shots.  Ripley's body is panned over slowly, or framed in a voyeuristic way, or the camera focuses on her crotch or her midriff.  Mal is seen either from the waist up, or when we see his entire naked body, the camera is still, just including him as part of the shot.  That he interacts with other people while naked takes away any vestiges of voyeurism the viewer might feel in checking out his clearly visible tattoo.

And, by yesterday afternoon, Dr. Bratton had sent me a glowing evaluation for my perusal and revision.  The only revision I suggested was that, while I enjoyed reading her reference to "Dr. Miller," I'm not there yet. 

I'm glad to have ended the week on a positive note.  And I finished a book on both my independent study and gender exam lists today, and posted a write-up of it on bellatricksy, which is a nice feeling of accomplishment.  I realized today, though, that I haven't plowed through my independent study list as much as I'd like to have, so that's definitely moved up on my priority list.  Next up: Susan Bordo's Unbearable Weight--and the two presentations I'm making Tuesday.  Happy weekend!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's a CV line, right?

So often, that's supposed to be the incentive to do things in graduate school.  At this point, though, I have lots of things on my CV (I probably need to do some pruning, though I really hate to take the performance poetry off), so I'm trying really hard to focus on doing things that are genuinely beneficial.

Today should have been one of those things.  After my column on plagiarism was published on Inside Higher Ed's website this summer, the department chair asked if I'd like to do a talk for the department about it.  As there's no longer money to bring in speakers to the department, they try to draw on the resources within the department for informative talks; this would be another one of those.  A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk by a professor about the necessity for and the future of the humanities, which was well-attended, fascinating, and prompted a nice exchange during the session.

I put a lot of thought and practice into my talk today; the thought of presenting something department-wide was daunting.  Alas, I needn't have worried: five people attended.

The professor who organized the event was quite apologetic and seemed rather pissed.  There were two professors and three grad students present.  I knew that several of my friends would be in a class which conflicted with the time--that professor, along with my own adviser, sent their regrets that couldn't attend.  But only two professors on a Wednesday afternoon? 

I admit that it's not surprising--people in this department (as well as the university in general) simply don't interact in the ways that they did at my last university.  At orientation, grad students were told at the university-wide orientation for new GTAs that the university has a "culture of absence"--though they were talking about class attendance by students, I think that the description could just as likely apply more generally.  A surprising (to me) number of grad students and professors live in New Orleans (an hour and a half away) and commute to LSU.  Even those who live closer don't spend a lot of time on campus.  One of the frustrations I faced last year was the discovery that for many professors, it's necessary to confirm that they'll actually be at their posted office hours, as unless they are expecting a student, they'll skip them.

More and more I appreciate and miss the much more community-oriented, collegial atmosphere at UT.  More than anything I miss the reading groups, the established faculty/grad student groups which met regularly to discuss important works in various areas--critical theory, Americanist studies, 18th century lit.  Attending the feminist studies reading group from the start of grad school was crucial to my success there--not only did I meet other students who shared my interest, but it was a low-stakes environment in which to meet and interact with faculty members.

Here, there are faculty writing groups, and I've been involved in a few informal reading groups, but it doesn't seem the two overlap.  I've started a reading group in WGS here, and our first meeting we had one professor attend.  It's a start.  But this evening I'm feeling frustrated that there's not more interaction on campus--and this is probably exacerbated by my frustration at still feeling isolated, after a year, living here.  It's quite difficult to have a social life as a graduate student if you enjoy neither bars nor drinking nor sports. 

None of this is new, and it is certainly slowly improving.  And today I did have an opportunity to give a presentation on a topic which is important to me, and got some good feedback from the people who were present.  And Tuesday is yet another presentation, a dry run panel presentation sponsored by the EGSA which will give me an opportunity to try out my weird Flannery O'Connor paper that I'm presenting next weekend for the Flannery O'Connor panel at SAMLA.  Even if five people attend that, I'll get a chance to practice and perhaps some feedback whether my pairing it with the Ministry song that samples dialogue from Wise Blood makes any sense whatsoever. 

So, in the larger scheme of things, today was a blip.  But still an annoying blip.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

This blog's purpose

The tagline for my Bellatricksy blog has been "Books as I read them and other adventures in grad school."  However, I've been only posting my responses to books on there so far, and have liked being able to track my progress there.  I've decided, however, to start another blog, one where I can post about things other than reading, though still mostly school-related. 

I was inspired by this post on Hook and Eye, however, that reminded me that I tend to work this way too--the more I do, the more I do.  The more my head is in writing mode, the more I'm going to be able to write.  I think having a place to informally reflect on what I'm doing may ultimately be useful as I go along.  Especially after this semester, when I'll be done with my commitments to coursework (though I'll be auditing a class in the spring, because how can I miss a class in the queer South?), it will be good to have an outlet to go blah blah blah about school.  

And surely, with a name that has both "hegemonic" AND "bulwark," it will surely be brilliant.