Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I've been working on the syllabus for my graduate Milton class for ages. It really shouldn't take this long: I've taught five Milton courses at either the advanced undergrad or grad level over the past seven years, and I always teach more or less the same primary texts, always in a roughly chronological fashion. So what's so hard?

Part of what's hard is that I keep switching textbooks, and that means figuring out what is and isn't in each one. Some have more useful supporting materials than others, and none has exactly the same excerpts from the prose works. Moreover, a new text--without my pre-existing flags and annotations--means I spend hours trying to find the things I want.

It's also hard to pick the right secondary sources and the right number of them; I still don't have a feel for how much (and what kind) of critical reading is reasonable to expect of M.A. students. My Milton grad class three years ago was amazing, and I could've given them even more secondary readings than I did--so my impulse is to up the workload slightly from last time (as well as to replace several articles that turned out to be duds). On the other hand, my Donne grad class the following semester was much weaker and had a difficult time not only with dense critical readings but even with some of the primary texts. Since this will be only my third M.A.-level class, it's hard to know whether my first or my second was the more typical.

It's awesome having a well-designed course that's pretty much ready to go whenever I teach it. It's also awesome to design a new course from scratch. Even redesigning an old course can be intellectually stimulating. But this kind of rejiggering-without-real-redesign? Just a drag, man.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I'm interested to see how it works out. Since I'm teaching a very different population of students than the last time I taught Shakespeare, and using a different book, I'm right there with you. I don't know what they can handle, and I'm setting the bar high. Worst case scenario is that I lecture all semester. Good luck.

Comrade Physioprof said...

Milton is that shizznitte with the circles of hell and all that jazze, right?

Flavia said...


Hell, but no circles of hell. And one bad-ass Satan.

Anonymous said...

"On the other hand, my Donne grad class the following semester was much weaker"

As a recent Ph.D. who still remembers the fear of humiliation that the grad seminar entails, I sympathize with any students who might be made self-conscious by your reference to a weaker Donne class. It's common practice, but a bad idea, to make negative blanket comments about groups of students over the internet, whether on blogs or on facebook, where the complaint about students (their writing in particular) is a genre unto itself.

I apologize for posting anonymously, but I'm on the job market and trying hard to manage my online persona. In general I'm a fan of this blog, which is helpful instruction in professionalization--I'd love to see you someday publish it as a memior-cum-professionalization manual.

Flavia said...


You're right. I shouldn't have framed the discussion of the two classes that way. I certainly didn't mean it to sound like a criticism of my Donne students. It was a weaker class for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it simply wasn't as well- or as coherently-designed, and that's all on me.

What would have been more productive to say is that that class happened to have more students in their first semester of the M.A. program; more students who had never analyzed poetry in formal, technical terms; and more students with little to no prior exposure to Renaissance literature. They weren't bad students (they worked hard, and some wound up doing excellent work), but the class really wasn't pitched at the right level for their needs at that stage of their careers.

I know what a typical undergraduate class can do, and I know how to pitch the material to reach as many students as possible. But I'm still figuring out what a typical M.A. class looks like and what they need from the class and from me as their instructor.