Teaching

Hello, strangers

While I technically number in their ranks, I have little sympathy for the moaning and groaning the academic types do at the end of their ginormous breaks.  Seriously, where do we get off, pretending like we’re summering Europeans?  That said, I don’t really feel like starting the semester.  And while I’ve never been much for wearing pajamas in the daytime, I feel like 2010 might be the year I experiment with nightwear in the day. 

Just kidding.  I have an odd – and hard to explain – set of rules about when elastic waistbands are acceptable.  But I am having the usual pre-game jitters about teaching my first class of the semester tomorrow morning.  This happens most semesters, and I hear that it happens because I care.  But I think it’s because meeting a room full of semi-awake, moderately surly teenagers for the first time brings out the worst parts of my desperate need to be liked by strangers.  I will be completely over this by next week, but until tomorrow’s events prove otherwise, I will continue to worry that they will riot.  Or stage a coup, and a hostile one. 

I know they will do neither of these things.  I know that for good or ill, they understand that I’m the person in charge.  But that could be because I’m pretty convincing when I’m pretending that I know what I’m doing.  And I’m pretty organized, so my syllabus is pretty much set for the whole semester.  Now all these strangers have to do is fall in line and fly right.

While I was finishing my syllabus this afternoon, however, I was listening to Slate’s Audio Book Club discuss David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a book I someday hope to have the courage and strength of will to read.  Anyway, during that discussion, one of the panelists mentioned coming across one of Wallace’s old syllabi and noted how he deconstructed every part of the class on the syllabus while he was trying to explain what the class is about.  So, because I was totally curious, I Googled it.  And I found this PDF, which is really worth the read.  When I was reading through it I had the rare experience of laughing out loud at a syllabus for reasons other than stifling rising panic.  It was really, really funny.  I especially enjoyed Wallace’s “Basic Course Spiel” in which he attempts to elaborate on the class’s task to analyze and interpret texts.  And, as someone who reads A LOT of college writing, I really, really enjoyed his discussions of what type of work was acceptable to submit for a grade.  Wallace’s description of the the proper “Presentation” of work, which “has to do with evidence of care, of adult competence in written English, and of compassion for your reader” was a great way to describe how a paper looks when 1.) the writer is invested in his or her work , 2.) the writer realizes that his or her work says something about him or her, and 3.) the writer finally understands that there is, in fact, an audience that has a particular set of needs.  To get my comp-teaching heart fully a-flutter, Wallace later mentions that he “draw[s] no distinction between the quality of one’s ideas and the quality of those ideas’ verbal expression” and that he will not accept or reward “semi-literate college writing.”   I wish I could its so well on my syllabus.   But at least I can keep his standards in mind.

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