Saturday, March 04, 2017

Curricular creativity

One of the unexpected benefits of moving jobs is the way a new curriculum has jumpstarted my pedagogy--and not just my pedagogy, but so much else about my intellectual life.

I say this not because the curriculum at my new job is better--in fact, our undergraduate major is a mess--but simply because it's different. I'm a person who likes figuring out systems and making them work, and though the full curriculum will need to wait a year or two before benefiting from my Always Being Right About Everything, each new course still presents satisfying opportunities to design a new system: what are the goals? what are the component skills? and how can we best get there?

Some of the new opportunities are modest. Here, the British Literature survey is at the 300-level, carries pre-reqs, and is made up almost entirely of majors and minors. I teach mostly the same texts, but I can do different things--indeed, feel compelled to do different things--than when I was teaching a 200-level class that carried general-education credit and was only optional for majors. Now I teach longer selections from fewer works and I think harder about what it means for this to be, usually, the only exposure our majors have to early British literature. (As well as for me to be its primary representative: next year will be the third year in a row where I'm the only one teaching the class.)

Other classes are entirely new to me. I used to teach a one-semester class called Introduction to Literary Analysis, which I loved. Here there are, in effect, three introductory classes: Intro to Poetry, Intro to Drama, and Intro to Fiction. They're required for majors and minors but also carry writing-across-the-curriculum credit and other gen eds for nonmajors. Leaving aside what I think of this from a whole-curriculum perspective, Introduction to Poetry has turned out to be a dream class. I'd already spent years turning myself into a teacher of poetics and it's now a matter of course for me to do at least a quick review of metrics in every class I teach. So to have an entire semester to ensure that students can talk about form? Where I can evangelize for poetry? And where I can deepen my own sense of how poetry works at just the moment--midway through the draft of a book manuscript that focuses almost entirely on works in verse--that I need it most? HEAVENLY.

Next year I've signed up for two other classes that will be new to me: something called Canonicity (required for education certification students) and the introductory theory class for M.A. students. The theory class is going to kick my ass, but I also expect it to help banish the last of my theory-insecurity in the way that teaching poetics banished the ghosts of my own crappy training in poetry. Canonicity will give me the leisure to talk more about things I usually only talk about in passing--how works fall in and out of fashion, and what's at stake in those changes--and to teach a few works I love but that are either outside my area of expertise or for which there's not a place in the ordinary round of my teaching.

Are there things I find frustrating about my teaching opportunities? Sure. Among other things, I'm sad that I no longer teach Shakespeare except for a play here and there. But the fact that I taught Shakespeare all the time at my previous job was a surprising gift--and after nine years I'd probably gotten about as much personal and professional benefit as I could get from teaching at the survey level anyway. I don't need to keep teaching Shakespeare. Instead, for the second year in a row, I'm teaching a senior capstone where we read Dante alongside Milton alongside excerpts from patristic and biblical literature. That's new, it's fun, and it's useful.

All of us sometimes wish our teaching lives were different: that we taught fewer classes, or more varied ones--or more repeat ones, in some cases. That we had more in-field colleagues, or fewer (if they're hogging the classes we want to teach). That we had more resources, or a slightly different student make-up, or a curriculum that better prepared them. But for now I'd rather focus on the opportunities within those constraints.

1 comment:

Renaissance Girl said...

Does it surprise you that your whole explanation of the Intro to Poetry class makes me giddy? Actually, ALL these classes sound like a pleasure to teach.