Class Preparation

One of the things we don't talk about enough as teachers is how much fun (yes, I mean it, fun) it is to prepare for a new class. Just before the holidays, my department chair asked me to teach a class in an entirely new area for me since one of my colleagues and friends will be out on maternity leave this semester (congratulations, Ginny!). Because I had so much grading and grant writing to do, it has taken me awhile to get to class preparation. I conferenced with Ginny getting her advice on how to teach the class, I ordered books, and otherwise gathered materials. But it wasn't until last week while I was on vacation that I was able to really start reading the materials.

So, yes, I was on vacation in Mexico and I read a lot--I read when I was stuck in airports with long layovers. I'd read in the morning when I woke up and wasn't ready to go out for breakfast yet. I'd read at night when I returned to the hotel tired after a long day of doing what tourists do. I even took my textbook down to the zocalo (in Oaxaca) one night and read while I ate dinner on an outdoor patio. And you know, the readings were deeply engaging, interesting, and otherwise enjoyable.

The class that I've been asked to teach is Literacy Studies. Although much of what I do in relation to English education is devoted to how to teach reading comprehension, writing, and literary analysis in secondary classrooms, Literacy Studies is more focused on the effects of literacy in people's every day lives. This morning, I've been reading essays about the history of standards-based education--and how the discipline of English/Language Arts and the basis for standards are antithetical. I've also been reading about how we impose certain expectations about school engagement on adolescents without questioning whether those frameworks are accurate or not--and about the ways that adolescents will assume certain attitudes about school because they think that is what is expected of them. I'm learning about the difference between the autonomous model of literacy vs. the ideological model.

As I read, I take notes on post-its (because one of the books is borrowed from Ginny). My mind keeps making interesting connections. I want to send one article to the Writing Project listserv to see what teachers think about it. I am refining what assignments (both writing projects and oral presentations) I want my students to do. I'm thinking about the questions that will frame how I organize my class. I'm trying to come up with ways to make the material accessible to undergraduates. I still have about a half a book left to read, but I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable about this subject area--and I'm really looking forward to discovering what my students will think of the ideas in these texts.

I'm excited to teach the class--I just hope I can figure out how to get my students excited about this content, as well. Teaching is an intellectual exercise--which is one of the reasons that I love my profession so much.

One thought on “Class Preparation

  1. murleen ray

    Kathee -- I'm so glad to see that you will be stepping in for Ginny while she's gone this semester. I couldn't agree with you more. As a new TA, one hopes to instill a sense that students now have control (some at least) over what they learn and how they express their own ideas through their writing. I'm frustrated when students remain focused entirely on the grade and lose sight of the goal of learning itself. I wonder how much inspiration we actually serve if a student doesn't come into class with this attitude already. For me, ANY course can be interesting and engaging as a way to broaden my own experiences; sometimes it doesn't even have to rely on the instructor to make it so, because the textbooks are often where I draw my deepest inspiration from; these are where I'm really engaging. Like you say, you interact with the text independently of any classroom. Where I've seen the best engagement is when the class participates in discussions about the materials. And, in that respect, having a safe environment seems to me to be the best way to encourage students to connect with their own learning process while they enter into discussion with their peers. I can only hope that they carry this away into the rest of their lives... but only time will tell. As an undergrad, it took me some time to begin to do this with a fully aware sense of purpose. There are times when I wonder if this is a matter of maturity, and not simply educational environs.

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