Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Summer" Time

One of those crazy misconceptions about being in academia is that you have your summers "off" so you can do whatever you want. Yeah, that would be nice, but not exactly the case. See, (1) we still need some sort of income, (2) school year craziness means there is a lot of stuff that needs done that just gets put off until the summer, and (3) academic work never really stops--books and journals keep coming out (which we need to read), we have to try to get our own stuff published, and, oh yeah, once we get far enough along as grad students, we have to write a dissertation. So yeah, not so much with the breaks. But, with all that said, I am getting the first meaningful slow-down in my schedule since the beginning of July last year. Last summer I taught my first class on my own, which basically ended at the start of the fall semester, in which I taught another class, wrote my prospectus, and took a class. Then, in the Spring, I taught two classes at one of the regional campuses, took one class, and presented at 4 conferences (one of which was technically the summer), which led directly into teaching a class this summer. Now that my class is done, I actually have some time to slow down, take a breath (catch up on some video games finally--I finally beat Zelda after not playing it for over a year), and, oh yeah, continue (start?) to work on my own stuff before I have to prep my class for the Fall (a 200 person lecture class).

But, with all that said, I absolutely love what I do. I really enjoy teaching, and I get to research and write about what I want, which is a good feeling. I'm currently editing a paper I've been working on editing for about 2 weeks now, and I think I'm finally getting close to the end (at 40+pages...), and Corinne and I will be heading back to Ohio soon to visit family and friends before the school year starts. So, although things are still pretty hectic, I completely enjoy what I do, and that is a great feeling. In fact, I actually just intended to make this a short post about my summer class that just wrapped up, but I got a little carried away, plus I haven't posted in awhile, so there was a lot to talk about--way more than I plan on posting about as I'm just too lazy and have probably forgotten most of what I wanted to talk about.

Anyway, I was scheduled to teach Modern Political Theory this summer, and seeing as the term "modern political theory" is so broad as to basically be meaningless, I decided to do things the hard way and get really creative with the course. I centered the class around the question of the roll of capitalism in modern political theory, as well as how these ideas relate to the current economic crisis. I set up the syllabus around political theorists who talk about the implications of government and markets for capitalism, and looked at theorists who praise markets as well as demonize them, and a little bit of stuff in between. I knew I was taking a bit of a risk, especially for a summer class, as this was either going to be amazing or completely tank, with very little chance of any middle ground. Fortunately the class went really well, beyond my expectations even.

I ended up with seven students, all but one of which participated a lot in class and offered really good insights into the class discussions. I really loaded the students with reading, so as incentive (compensation?) I heavily weighed the grades towards doing the reading and discussing them in class and on the class's discussion board, which worked out really well. The students all worked really hard, and were not afraid to offer their ideas--and more importantly--to admit when they did not understand something. I found myself, several times, with really good pedagogical moments when I would ask a question, would get silence in response, and then one of the students would say something like, "I didn't really understand this part because..." and then explain what he (it was an all male class, which was a little weird) thought was going on and where he got lost. This provided a unique opportunity to then go through exactly what was confusing and work with the students to come up with a reading of the various texts. Prior to this class I never had anything quite so rewarding, and I'm still super excited about how the class turned out in the end.

I also had a student who had taken the class twice before with other professors, and for various life-related reasons, ended up not getting credit for the class. He was trying to pick up GPA and wanted to take the class again and needed special permission, which I gave him. This was definitely one of the smarter things I have ever done, as he was one of the hardest workings students in that class, and ended up going above and beyond what I expected for an A, and I tend to have fairly high expectations. It is really nice to have students like this (especially in a small setting where I have a chance to get to know my students) to remind you that the students are human and fallible just like everyone else, and that sometimes life can get int he way of school work, but this says nothing about who these students are or will become. Also, it is a great testament to giving people second and third chances, as you never know when they will solidify your faith in others.


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