Friday, December 10, 2004

Payday comes early . . .

Let's get one thing straight: I'm glad I get paid fairly decently for my job, and I (and Mrs. Meridian, and the mother of my children) would be sorely distressed were that not to be the case. But I do what I do because, dewy-eyed idealist that I remain (you thought that was rheum, I bet), I truly do love my work. So for me, the real pay, that which tells me that I'm Accomplishing Something, comes from my students.
My longtime reader(s) may recall that in one of my Comp classes, my students would be required to write and research about paintings by painters of my selection. We've now come to the end of the semester--they will turn in their research projects next Tuesday. For the past two weeks, I've been meeting with them individually to talk about their projects, and without exception, each has told me something along the lines of this: "When you told us what we'd be doing, I didn't think I'd like it, but this turned out to be my favorite class this semester." They mean it, they assure me. Almost none of them, I should add, had ever even paid much attention to art before, much less visited a museum, and very much less written about paintings. And though, true, not all of them did superior work, all improved mightily as observers and writers about what they observe. And what can I say when one of those students, who professed to be very afraid at the beginning of the semester, reaches the point of wanting to write about light as a "character" in Edward Hopper's paintings? How cool is that?--not the subject necessarily, though I do find that cool, too, but the fact that she arrived at that point.
My experience with this class reminds me yet again that my students and their teacher are happiest when we're actually learning something new, when we're not just going through the motions of planning to write standard-issue essays and research papers. Note that I've included myself in there as well: this rote-teaching business is not for me, though the system in place here makes it very tempting to fall into such habits. But now, the spring is something to look forward to: the Intro. to Humanities class, followed by Intro to Lit (maybe it'll make this semester; this fall's didn't, for some reason); and a revamped Comp II offering that'll be something we won't all sleepwalk through.
And I actually understand Spivak enough to disagree with her, now that she's talking about literature. Life is good.


Anonymous said...

If I could have achieved anything like that with my summer school kids I could die a happy man.

Well... perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration. But you know what I mean: for everything else, there's Mastercard.

John B. said...

f_s (I presume?),
I have to admit that, after 12 years of teaching, why things like this happen is still something of a mystery to me. It's not that I "do" anything, really; it's more like I try to create an environment within which stuff like this can happen. They find their way around in that environment; they can ask me and each other for advice; in the process, they teach themselves. There's no pedagogy consciously behind this; just a belief that college should be, as much as possible, about exploration of subjects and ideas that are new for the student.
In your case, several decks were stacked against you this summer: summer; Switzerland; kids who most emphatically didn't want to be there and, given their socioeconomic status, didn't especially NEED to be there, either. Maybe the curriculum, too--I don't recall whether you were given one or had to design it yourself. It's difficult for me to imagine a teacher who would have succeeded in your place. But I hope you'll consider giving this teaching thing another go.

jennifer said...

This post made me smile. We have this one teacher who so many of us really appreciate but boy to try and speak to him or engage him in the material beyond his notes, makes me seem skittish. He comes and supports groups we do (like our sociology salon) but he hardly speaks at all unless he is in that space as professor. It's odd. So many students (not just me) have commented on how he seems put off or confused if you try to ask him questions that aren't going to be on the test or to try and go in more depth of a theory/theorist. Any ideas as to how to approach the guy or is renewing his faith in students actually caring a lost cause? :)
Point to this happy rant is that there are many students who do care and do try to engage material and learn from it and value their education who seem inevitably to confuse the crap out of professors who don't seem to understand/comprehend/trust or appreciate that. Oh well. I've concocted my own little plot to screw with the meritocracy of higher ed. Our students association offers a professor of the year nomination/award every year and this year I got about ten people to nominate him as he is the "black sheep" of the department he works for AND his department is the "black sheep" of the university. I just want to see what will happen, if they'll actually give him an award and if he'll actually see that his efforts are noticed and appreciated by students if not by the 'dean.' Subvert the meritocracy. :) peace!

jennifer said...

Sorry, I meant that he gets skittish. Avoidant is probably the better word. The thesarus in my brain is out of order today. peace!

John B. said...

I certainly hope, for the prof's sake as well as for his students', that it's not too late to draw him away from the lecture notes. A cumulative something has happened over the years that has caused him to lose faith in his students as engaged. I won't speculate as to what that might have been. But, assuming he doesn't take your gestures as condescending but as signs of respect, you might yet have some luck with him. Let me know how it goes.

jennifer said...

Why condescending? I've racked my brain trying to figure out what you meant by that because I can't imagine how we could possibly come across as condescending? Please clue me in here.
Also have you read the book Persepolis or Persepolis 2?
I recently bought them both and they are just phenomenal! I highly recommend them.


John B. said...

I made my comments without knowing the prof you're speaking of. Obviously, most profs would feel honored, and I certainly hope he will feel the same.