What 2010 Taught Me

1) I love to teach; it is as much a part of my identity as any other aspect of my personality or role (mother, wife, sister, daughter, etc). Not being in front of the classroom (or on the pool deck) is like I am missing a part of myself. When I am teaching/coaching, I feel like I have come home, come to the place where I was meant to be.

2) I need to write. My husband, as much as I love him and as encouraging and supportive as he has been, sometimes doesn’t get my blogging, especially when I choose to blog over, say, sleep. Don’t worry about it, he tells me, it doesn’t matter. But it matters to me, insofar as I am a writer as much as I am a teacher. Writing initially was a way to make up for the fact that I wasn’t teaching. It’s become so much more. I used to write almost daily in journals before going to sleep, during classes when I was supposed to be paying attention (take that, texting haters!), and in long, unsent letters. Now, I write and I have an audience, which leads me to lesson number three…
3) I love social media. And by this, I mean blogging, tweeting, and just basically sharing stuff and being a part of a community even though I live out in the middle of nowhere (which, ironically, is where most people claim there is still a strong sense of community). I have made more friends, learned more things about everything, and felt more welcome and accepted than I have in a very long time. We can debate the merits of “real” friends over “virtual” friends until we’re all blue in the face, but my extended community has helped get me through this very challenging year.
4) I am thankful that I was essentially unemployed for most of 2010. If I had been teaching, I wouldn’t have tried to start my own business, which lead me to start my own blog and get on Twitter. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and I reinvented myself (at least, my academic self) this year because of the necessity of unemployment, that loss of a large piece of how I understood who I was, who I still am. Unemployment forced me to let go and finally be myself. 
5) I still have a ways to go. I talk a big talk about reinventing and reimagining higher education and how we teach and learn. I want to help change how instructors who are off the tenure-track are treated in higher education. I am continually frustrated by how most professors and administrators have basically given up on positively changing the university for the better and accepted the “new normal” because they have that luxury as their own jobs are protected. But at the end of the day, I struggle with how I can not just talk about change, but actually be the change. I’ve written extensively about fear and, although not explicitly, about failure, and what that means to my career, to my husband’s career, to my family, and to me personally. The University of Venus gave me a new audience to share my views; now I just have to figure out how to use it more proactively, rather than just being one more voice screaming into the wind. 
Happy New Year, everyone. Thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, thank you for commenting, thank you for caring. May 2011 bring you joy, and if not, may you find the strength to emerge from whatever the year throws at you wiser and stronger. 

What To Do With All These Books?

We just moved, and as always, the process involved coming face to face with the amount of books I have. They look impressive on the shelves, less so in a never-ending stack of boxes. And in boxes they will remain for the time being because our main bookshelf disintegrated in the move. I’m left wondering, what am I, finally, going to do with all those books?

My husband and I are book “collectors.” We both love having books related to our academic interests as well as books we just like (or, admittedly, should like). My PhD in comparative literature contributed a great number of “classics” to our library which we will never part with. My eclectic teaching history has added to the list of books we own and might not have otherwise. And then there are the piles of science-fiction and fantasy books that are left over from our “youth.” None of those books will ever be parted with, either. Most of my husband’s books are in his office at work.

No, the books I am thinking of parting with are a part of my collection of Canadian literature. A long, long time ago, I was a Canadianist. I taught a year-long intro course in Canadian literature. My dissertation and research interests were in Canadian literature (they still are, but it’s not really all that marketable, so now I call it postcolonial). I am also a bit of a completist, and thus when I found affordable (cheap) Can Lit, I gobbled them up. Now, I have shelves and shelves of obscure Canadian literature (and Canadian literary theory/criticism) that I am pretty sure I will never read or use again.

A study was published just this year showing that the more books that are in the home, the more academically successful a child will be. I’m not tremendously concerned that our children won’t be exposed to books (the number of boxes of their books we had to move was astounding), but I do wonder: is it the quantity or quality of the books that will make the biggest differences? I don’t mean quality in terms of the books being “great” literature or “trash”; growing up, our house was filled with trashy romances read by my mother and pulpy science fiction and horror books read by my father. It was the act of my parents reading them that had the greatest impression on me. I devoured books of my own choosing and felt free to read whatever I wanted to, in part because my parents read what they enjoyed.

And that’s the problem. I own all of these books that I probably will never read. They sit on the shelf in near-pristine condition, spines unbroken, pages almost immaculate, out of obligation. When one of the kids comes up to me to ask, “what’s this book about?” I won’t be able to tell them. There is no connection between myself and the book. We gladly lug all of our old CDs with us, in part because we want our kids to pick them up, look at them, play with them, play them, and ask us about them (this was when I knew I was marrying the right man; when I asked why we weren’t just getting rid of them, my husband said exactly that). The music has meaning to us, or at least had meaning to us. Many of my books hold no meaning to me.

So, over the protestations of my husband, who believes that no book deserves to be discarded, I will be purging books from my library. This will (please, please, please) be our last move for a long time, which means that the books will be unpacked and left on the shelf. But that’s not what I want for my books. I want books that will be pulled down, read, and hold meaning for the reader. Don’t worry; I won’t throw them out. I’ll donate them to a library somewhere, if there is still a library that cares about Canadian literature out there. Either that, or my rural, southern US state college will become proud and confused owners of a very significant collection of Canadian literature.

If anyone has any other ideas, I’ll gladly donate my books to a place where they can do the most good.

What Do We Expect From Freshmen?

I’m not breaking my Christmas vow to focus on engaging with the comments on my blog/writing; this post, in fact, is a long response to my recent University of Venus post, “What is a Course in Higher Ed?” One particularly negative comment focused on how I live in a fairy-land and should never be allowed to teach again. Never mind that the course focused on education and its role in our society, and that the assignment was warmly and enthusiastically received by my students. And while some of my students didn’t do as well as I had hoped, when do they ever? 

But that isn’t what this blog post is about. No, my fellow University of Venus blogger Mary Churchill dealt quite well with the issue of instructors and professors being openly discouraged from trying (and potentially failing) in the classroom here.

I want to focus on the critique that I expected too much from my Freshmen in the class (never mind that most of my students were, in fact, Sophomores or higher). One of the comments read:

Freshman are not educators; most of them do not even know how to do critical thinking, much less create a course that develops it. Freshmen are supposed to be somewhat self-centered with a limited worldview. Changing that is the purpose of higher ed. While, along the way, imparting skills and knowledge.

True enough, they are not educators, but they have all chosen to attend an institution of higher education, at great cost to themselves and/or their families. But is it also true that they are “supposed to be somewhat self-centered”? This goes back to the central question of my post, what is higher education? Is its purpose to produce well-rounded, critical thinking individuals? And is it the only place where this could and should happen?

In the West, most people still do not attend college, let alone complete a degree (note that I’ve said college and not community college or technical schools). We are a democracy, and we rely on a population that is capable of making informed decisions when they vote. Why, then, is critical thinking the sole responsibility of colleges and universities? Why has that role been taken away from or fallen away from the high schools? What about the significant numbers of the population who have not gone to college?

We spoke at length about education and its role in our society both with my more advanced 200-level writers, about whom I wrote, and with my developmental writers, who were all Freshmen. All of them agree that their college education, in fact, all of education, is motivated by economics. It was very difficult for them to even contemplate or imagine education serving any other purpose. Why then, I asked, was education historically reserved for the wealthy who didn’t need any sort of education in order to perpetuate their (mostly inherited) wealth? Why did the emerging merchant class insist that their children receive a classical education when their trade was, well, trade?

I don’t think any of us ever came up with a satisfactory answer. Is this a failure on my part as an instructor? Well, I could have told them or lectured them on their self-centered, capitalist worldview, which would have gone in one ear and out the other. Instead, we read, we wrote, and I let them create. And, really, at the end of 15 weeks, is it too much to ask of a student to apply what we have read, discussed, and learned, regardless of what level they are at, Freshmen or Seniors?

I think in our disgust with the level of K-12 education, our increasing course loads/student numbers, our push to standardize courses, and our general disdain for the motivation of our students (or lack thereof), we have severely underestimated their abilities. They don’t want to be challenged; they’re not ready to be challenged; I’m too busy to challenge them. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Most Freshmen, heck most students, will rise to the challenge, if you are willing to go there with them.

Back when I was naive, I taught a developmental writing course in California, at one of the state schools.  The need for remediation was so strong that they created two levels of developmental writing, one that was one 10-week quarter and another that took place over two 10-week quarters. The only requirement was that the students had to study (read, write, and discuss) a non-fiction book, one that makes an argument. I, in my naiveté, chose Manliness by Harvey Mansfield. The students, I thought, would love it. And they did, eventually.

We spent the final 10 weeks on the book. I told them ahead of time that it would be the most challenging book they’d probably ever read, but if they trusted me, worked hard, we would get through it and they could be confident that they could get through anything college threw at them.  It was the hardest 10 weeks of my life and probably the students’ (intellectual) lives. But we did get through it and at the end of the semester, I was more proud of the results they produced than I ever have before or since. Why? One reason is because I never had the opportunity to teach the book again. But another reason is exactly because it was so hard for me as their instructor and thus a deterrent to ever teaching something that challenging to Freshmen or developmental writers ever again. Why should I be surprised at their uninspired writing and ideas when I give them (or am required to give them) uninspired things to read and write about?

My idea to have all of my students, regardless of their level read and write about education and education reform has produced the most satisfying results for me as an instructor since I taught Manliness. And, it was my most challenging teaching experience since then, too. Were all the essays stellar examples of critical thinking and college-level writing? No. But, they all showed evidence of at least an attempt at both critical thinking and college-level writing. It didn’t earn them an A, but it did reinforce my belief that much of the time we expect too little from our students, Freshmen or otherwise.

For Part II, I ask, what can we expect from Freshmen?

Taking a Break for Conversations

I’m good at blogging; I’m not so good at engaging in conversations with those readers who are kind enough to comment on my blog posts. I’m also moving, and heading back up to the Great White North for the holidays. So, for Christmas vacation, I am going to take a step back from writing blog posts (I have a pile on tap for the New Year and New Semester, so don’t worry) and go through the comments I have received here and on Twitter about my posts, and actually engage with them. In other words, respond.

Happy Holidays!

What difference does it make that you get an “A”?

The students are handing in their papers and writing final exams. Once the grades are in (and even before that), it will begin. The grade grubbing. It’s my least favorite part of the semester. It has already started; students who have missed a lot of assignments and then have not done well on major papers are at my desk before and after class, asking if there is anything they can do (build a time machine, go back to the beginning of the semester, do better). But the students who really frustrate me are those students who come to me demanding to know:

“Why didn’t I get an A” or “How can I get an A”? 
I tell my students at the beginning of the semester that if they work hard, attend class, do the assignments both big and small, take it seriously, and take advantage of the services and support offered to them, then there is no reason why they can’t all get A’s. But as the semester progresses, it becomes clear that some of the students’ only motivation is to get an A. It doesn’t matter that becoming a better writer is a valuable life skill, they just want to know what list of changes they need to make in order to make something into an “A” paper. It’s one of the reasons why I try to keep from too heavily editing students’ papers; the students don’t see it as an opportunity to learn, only an opportunity to get an A. 
There has been a lot of debate recently about how we evaluate students and how pressure to do well (get a high GPA) is leading to an erosion of the educational experience. Students increasingly don’t see anything wrong with cheating; all that counts is that, in the end, they get their high grade and their degree. I try to work with my students on the process of writing, in order to make the writing the focus, instead of the grade. But it doesn’t work. Especially since many of my classes are general education requirements that students think should be easier because they have to take them, in part to make up for lower grades earned in their more demanding classes in their major. 
And so the student who comes to me complaining about a B will be met with one question: why is it so important that your grade be an A? What are your priorities? Why? And then, what didn’t you do this semester that kept you from getting an A? Earning a B in my class may be the opportunity a student needs to really take a hard look at why they are in school and how their behavior and choices are undermining their ultimate goals and aspirations. But, it is also a good time to ask, what difference will that A really make? 
I’ve earned A’s and I’ve earned D’s. I’ve had wild successes and massive failures. If all I did was stop at the letter grade assigned to any project or assignment, where would I be? I was wholly unprepared for a job because there wasn’t the finality of a grade one way or the other, and that my bosses we not as ready or willing to reward me with the same accolades my work had previously earned. In school, the grade is final. At work, my writing was constantly being edited, revised, rewritten, and, worst of all for me, heavily critiqued. While I would always forget about a good or bad grade immediately after it had been posted, I didn’t really learn anything, or was I ever motivated to improve. Working was a rude awakening to how inadequately I was prepared, despite my stellar (and not so stellar) grades.
What difference is that A really going to make? 

What’s the Point of Freshman Writing?

This post is in response to a question asked on the Phi Beta Cons blog.

I am sorry that you don’t see the point of courses like Freshman Writing. But you’ve never met my students. You’ve never met the students who come to the non-selective institutions of higher education in this country, in other words, the majority of them. And you most definitely have not gone through the K-12 system that currently values standardized test scores over real writing skills. Look at the statistics. The majority of students are not prepared for college work. They need remediation (look at California and New York’s numbers). Well then, give them remediation, you say. After one semester, have these students really overcome 12 years of educational deficiency?
And, really, even those who don’t need remediation. Are they really that far ahead of their peers in remedial or developmental courses? Are they ready to face the demands of a college degree, the level of writing that will be required of them? Not really, given the tyranny of the standardized test and the standardized essay. They do the five-paragraph essay over and over again. And then they are expected to succeed in a college humanities class?  
These are not students who have parents who have paid for academic coaches, SAT tutors, and admissions councilors. These are often students who are the first in their family to finish high school, let alone attend college. They are not the best and the brightest. They are often not the ambitious and highly motivated. But they are all motivated by the same goal: to build a better life for themselves. And the way to do that, they have been told repeatedly, is to go to college. 
It is the end of the semester, and I am saddened by the number of students who have written to me that I am the first teacher they have had who has given a crap about them, their writing, and their education. I am the first teacher who has tried to explain to them how to properly use a comma or what a sentence fragment is. That they learned more in my 15-week class than four years of high school. That they never believed that they could write until they came into my class. I have taught at three different public universities in three different states. I received the same kinds of comments from the majority of my students at all three.
As for the class refer to at UNC, I think you need to take any student’s description of a class with a grain of salt. It actually sounds like the instructor tried to engage with the students in a way that was relevant to where the future of humanities is going (whether we like it or not): the digital humanities. Also, instead of droning on and on and on in a boring lecture format, the instructor invited the students to step outside the classroom and explore educational events on campus. Freshmen especially need to know what resources are available to them on campus, whether they think they are going to be interested or not. To then ask students to work together and shape their own learning experience? The nerve, forcing the students to be active, independent learners. I hope she didn’t trip over her sense of superiority while she overlooked an opportunity to engage in some creative and critical thinking, something that is no longer valued in high school.
I am not absolving the instructor for not giving the course as advertised and failing to provide more guidance to the student in question (did she even ask, however?). But notice how I avoid talking about the instructor as a professor; that is because it was made clear that the instructor of the course was a PhD student. This is one of the biggest problems with how Freshman Writing is taught in many institutions, both selective and non-selective. Professors are too busy with their research, graduate students, and upper-level courses to teach Freshman Writing, so instead it is passed off to underprepared graduate students or over-worked adjuncts (often, but not always, they are one and the same). If professors aren’t willing to take the courses seriously enough to teach them (even though it was they who demanded that the courses be offered because, presumably, they noticed that students couldn’t write well enough), then how seriously will a graduate student take them, when their sole goal is to emulate their professors? 
Perhaps Freshman Writing is a waste of some students’ time, but for the majority, it is a necessity to make up for years of standardized testing and sub-standard teaching. As for poor teachers of Freshman Writing or poor course/assignment design, blame a system that doesn’t prioritize teaching. There are many, many of us out there who do try to teach it well, and most of us are off the tenure-track. Reading your post and the student’s post remind me of how thankless and disrespected a task I chose to take on. Reading many of my students’ thanks, I am reminded of why I love what I do.

The “Meaning” of Teacher Evals

There are a lot of things going on at this time of the year. Students are freaking out about their grades entirely too late for it to make any difference. Professors and Instructors are inundated with essays and final exams to correct. But, it is also time for students in colleges and universities to evaluate their teachers; our final exam on a semester’s worth of work.

Of course, teaching evaluations aren’t the only way we are evaluated as teachers: class average, the ease at which your courses “make,” and peer observations are often also used to gage a professor’s effectiveness in the classroom. I remember when I was just starting off as a PhD student, I was given a stern talking-to by my department chair for having too-high a class average. My husband, on the other hand, has been taken to task for not being able to attract a higher number of students to register for his classes. In both cases, one wonders if it is the teaching or other factors that influence the criteria being used.
Which brings us back to the teaching evaluations we give to our students, asking them to judge how well we’ve performed over the semester. In a way, it’s fair, especially at the university level. One hopes that students in universities have a more active interest in their learning and thus will accurately and fairly judge their professors on whether or not they have learned anything. But unfortunately, much of the time, the teaching evaluations come down to a) how high the class average is and thus, b) how much they student “liked” the professor.
I also wonder how accurately students can answer some of the questions asked on the evaluations form. Was the instructor readily available outside of class? Considering I can count on one hand how many students actually came to see my during my office hours, how will the majority of my students answer? How can they answer, seeing as how they never sought my help outside of the classroom? Did they find what I taught in the class valuable? Seeing as how I teach a course whose curriculum is, in part, imposed on me, how is that a fair evaluation of my teaching? And do students even have the perspective to know if what I am teaching is valuable? It might seem irrelevant today, but what about in the “real world?”
But I keep coming back to the likability factor. I have never once had all positive teaching evaluations. There are always one or two students who seem to intensely dislike me, how I teach, and what I teach. I’ll often come across their comments immediately after reading a very positive comment about the exact same aspect of my class. The instructor was very clear and took her time to make sure we understood all of the materials; followed by, the instructor was overly repetitive and went over the same thing over and over like we were stupid. I’m clear and I’m too loud. I’m friendly and open and I reveal too much about myself. I am at once too tough and too easy on my students. I am both fair and unfair in my grading practices. How am I all of these contradictory things at once?
When I posted on the teachers who have influenced me, someone I went to elementary school with raked me over the coals for my description of my beloved 3rd and 5th grade teacher; for him, the same teacher and class was an absolute nightmare. And when I recounted my (negative) experience in 10th grade English, a fellow classmate and friend had the exact opposite reaction to the same treatment (and let me know about it). My students, when asked to reflect on their best teachers in high school, chose those teachers who pushed them and had high expectations of them. While in high school, they admitted that they hated those teachers and much preferred those teachers who didn’t demand so much. So I am all too aware of the variances in personal experience with the exact same teacher. And if that is true, can we rely on student evaluations to give us an accurate picture of how “good” a teacher is?
Putting aside the idea as well that student evaluations have turned into a costumer satisfaction survey, and if the customer (student) wasn’t right, they let the professor have it, the evaluations don’t really help the professor become a better teacher. When faced with conflicting comments, what is a professor supposed to do to increase “customer satisfaction”? Major corporations have the size and resources to at least appear to be all things to all people, but I am alone in front of 30+ students for a limited amount of time, and all of the students have a different idea of how and what I should be teaching. 
Which brings up the uncomfortable notion that universities are just going through the motions of evaluating teaching. We pass out forms, they get fed into the computer, the scores come back, high and low scores are duly noted, but at the end of the day, it won’t be teaching that denies or gains a faculty member tenure. In the same way, stellar teaching evaluations in no way protect contingent faculty members from being summarily dismissed for budgetary, personal, or political reasons. There is little incentive for faculty members both on and off the tenure-track to innovate, experiment, and re-imagine their courses and teaching methods. It is seen as either taking too much time away from research and service (tenure-track) or over-stepping the accepted boundaries (contingent). 
I know that there are lots of universities that truly value teaching, and thus also value meaningfully evaluating the teacher. But for so many of us, those schools exist as some sort of academic legend, existing on the fringes of reality. We hear about them, and we know someone who knows someone who works there, but it remains unknowable, a place that only exists in our fantasies. The reality is that I have to try to get my students to like me (so maybe I’ll just give them all A’s) to do well on my evaluations.
And then, it won’t matter anyway.

End-of-Semester Advice for Writers

The semester is coming to an end. My developmental writers are getting ready to hand in their last essays. Most have shown great improvement and proven that they can write at a level that will mean success at the college level. They are more confident writers who are no longer intimidated by having to write “formal” essays for class. They are more critical and active readers who are more adapt at approaching their work, more aware of the need to adapt their skills depending on the task at hand. 

Which I know they will promptly forget how to do the moment they leave my class. Or they will become over-confident in their abilities. Or, they will let college life get the better of them, with teachers who (rightfully) don’t build in a lot of time for revision and feedback for assignments. 
One of my biggest pet-peeves is when a professor from another department learns that I teach developmental writing and tells me that we’d better start doing a better job because their students in nursing/engineering/history/whatever can’t write. My answer is now that they could write when they left my classroom. Whether or not they choose to write well in other classes is another issue all together.
My advice to students who are moving on from their developmental writing class or even the more traditional Freshman Writing course is to allow yourselves the opportunity to succeed. Don’t hand in your “first draft” that you wrote the morning before class. Proofread. Adjust your tone. Make sure you’re following directions. Don’t write the same paper for every class. Practice writing any and every chance you get. And remember that a professor can’t evaluate your ideas if they can’t understand them through your writing. 
I’ve taught my students methods and strategies to be successful college writers. We’ve practiced them and they have seen that they work. Keep using them in every class. Please. Your college success depends on them. 

Teaching Writing and Editing Writers

My students’ blog assignment has put in a strange position, caught somewhere between their teacher and their editor. My original “training” was as a professional writer, and part of that training was learning how to edit. I edited our program’s newspaper. I’ve worked as an editor before. I’ve edited a book. I can’t say I ever enjoyed that work, nor that I was any good at it. So it wasn’t with much heartbreak that I gave up heavily editing my students’ work when I became a teacher. 

But now that I am the administrator for the blog my students are contributing to, I have an old, familiar urge to edit. The missing (or extra) comma. The sentence fragment. The misused word. All of it. I just want to go in a fix it. Or, going further, fiddling with a sentence here or there to improve it. Or cut a word or sentence that doesn’t work or fit. I know better, and I have promised myself and my students that, outside of formatting, I wouldn’t change their work.
Before you get upset about my impulse to “improve” the students’ writings, know that that is the role of the editor. When I worked as a paid intern for an online newspaper, I was shocked and devastated when I got my first writing assignment back from the editor completely marked up and changed. This was the first time I had really had my writing critiqued in this way. I dutifully made the changes, recognized that the writing was better (but at that point, I also thought what I had written was fine, too), and tried to grow some thicker skin. 
The editor is a thankless job, because the byline always goes to the author. But what I try to make my students realize is that most works of writing they read are the result of a long process that often involves a lot of people. While we do peer review and revise drafts of our essays, I can’t get the students to really edit their own or even their peers’ work. Part of it has to do with the idea of plagiarism; these kids have been taught to only submit their own, original work, lest they face some very severe consequences. But why can’t or won’t they collaborate in order to make their writing better? Is it because I haven’t provided a model for them to follow?
And, what is my role in the collaboration? Where is the balance between coaching my students to improve and actually getting in there doing the dirty work of revising and improving a students’ writing. And would I be doing it for them or with them? This blogging assignment has forced me to think about how much work I still have to do in figuring out how to best help my students become better writers.

My fifty-foot paperclip made of foam rubber

My advanced-level writing students had one final assignment to do after their education reform blog posts; I asked them to design (or redesign) their own university-level course. The bulk of the assignment would be spent justifying their choices (How will it be taught? By whom? Where? How will students be evaluated? What assignments/work will students do? What are the learner outcomes?), but this assignment was an opportunity for the students to re-imagine the university course as they know it.

When we first started talking about education reform in class, I showed them Sir Ken Robinson’s animated video about changing the education paradigm. In it, he talks about divergent thinking and asks how many different uses we can think of for a paper clip. The idea is that if you can imagine the paper clip to be “fifty feet tall and made of foam rubber,” among other ways, then you are pretty good at divergent thinking (and thus are more likely to be creative). I told my students, this assignment is your opportunity to try imagine your own fifty-foot paper clip made of foam rubber and what could be done with it.
Like this class was for me.
Look, I know that for a lot of people, assigning students a blog post instead of an essay and having them read up on and write about current events isn’t groundbreaking. In fact, more often than not, my class resembled any other typical university writing class. Part of the reason is because the class is considered a general education course, and thus has to meet a whole list of university-imposed guidelines, standards, and learning outcomes. And, being a new, non-tenure-track instructor, there is only so much boat-rocking I am willing to do, just in case.

But, creating this class was still a challenge and an adventure for me. It was unlike any writing course I had taught before. I experiemented, and it seems to have paid off. Next semester, who knows what the course will look like? I’m learning as I go, and expanding what I am willing (and able) to do. I’m also hoping that my students will offer some ideas in their assignments.

Their ideas for courses sound great so far. One student thinks it would be a good idea to offer a cooking class for Freshmen. Another wants there to be a general education course in debating, to teach students how to argue and listen effectively and not just yell at each other. And yet another wants to bring students out into the field to do local sociological studies. I am eager to see how they imagine delivering the course; will it be the same-old lecture-essay-test format that so many of the class they have taken use, or will they try to move beyond that?

I told my students that I was going to miss them and this class when the semester ends next week. The course wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if they hadn’t been willing to come along with me for the ride. I had two sections, forty students, who have worked really hard and have been fantastically receptive to my crazy ideas. Part of my goal in this class was to show them what their education could be. I think that another small goal was to show myself, too.