Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bicycles, as in being like the riding of

I think I need two blogs ... one for my diary-type entries for the benefit of friends and family, and one as an outlet for my various rants and editorializing. It feels strange, rereading yesterday's post, to be now writing about my first day of teaching ...

Two blogs. Tempting, but this already has much of the feel of a useful proscrastination device. Two blogs and I think tenure would already be in jeopardy. So everyone will just have to accept that every so often I'll be going off on something or other.

But before switching topics, a vintage Jon Stewart line from last night's show: "Did the government do nearly enough for the victims of Katrina? Short answer, no. Long answer, NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!"

Ahem. So, yes, I had my first two classes at MUN today ... and was terribly nervous, at least for the first. My hands were actually trembling as I handed out the syllabus. But then I started to warm up a bit and got back into the classroom groove. It was made easier by the fact that the first classes are kind of paint-by-numbers -- Hi, I'm the prof (or "content provider," I think we're called these days), here's the syllabus, don't hand in papers late, don't plagiarize, etc etc. I've pretty much got the patter down, as anyone who's taken more than one class with me can probably attest. I always find a way to work the word "fuck" in there just to keep them on their toes.

They seem like good groups ... very affable, very keen. Interestingly, my introductory survey course was much more forthcoming on the "what did you read this summer?" question, whereas the third-year course on American drama -- who are all, presumably, actually declared English majors -- had almost nothing to say. Except for one girl who listed about five substantial novels, including Brave New World and Moby Dick. Seriously ... who reads Moby Dick over the summer holidays? I was impressed, but in hindsight I wonder if the rest of the class' recalcitrance was because they were worried about looking bad next to their classmate.

In a previous post, I mentioned in passing the new "variables" that would make this experience rather different from Western. Here are the ones I've sussed out so far:

1. Newfoundland's economic history makes for a very broad cross-section of students. Many are first-generation university students, i.e. they're the first in their family to ever do post-secondary education. How this plays out will be interesting to see: at UWO, I would estimate that 90-95% of students come from parents who went to university (often Western!), and in many cases had grandparents who did the same. On the other hand, there are a lot of students who come from the upper echelons of Newfoundland's economic strata, mostly from St. John's where, as the provincial capital, there are a lot of government jobs.
2. Newfoundland's demographics are such that about half the people in the province live in St. John's, but there are literally hundreds of tiny towns and outports of a few thousand or even a few hundred people. One of my students comes from a town of 250; she said that her intro to chemistry class last year was larger than her home town.
3. I want to know what crazy-ass administrator decided that fifty students constitutes a "small" class.
4. I'm not allowed to take attendance. Or more specifically, it's a university rule that you cannot build an attendance/ participation grade into the course. However, because of this, I was strongly encouraged by senior faculty to change the line "You must come to class" to "You should come to class" in my syllabus; I was also informed that consistently taking attendance all semester, if for nothing else than as a way to learn names, could lead a more litigious student to appeal a grade based on the premise that his repeated absence was used prejudicially against him. Which makes me want to know: when does failing to make allowances for a student's idiocy become grounds for appeal?

Overall, it was a good day. I'd forgotten how exhausting lecturing is. Afterward, I drove down to Water street to treat myself to a meal out and, more importantly, a pint of Guiness. I've discovered (for me) the three times at which beer is at its most delicious: (1) after a day of sailing; (2) after the rehearsal or performance of a play; (3) after a lecture.


Justin Power said...

I have to agree, ol' Jon was in top form last night:

"For people who are saying 'stop pointing fingers at the president, the left wing media is being too hard...' No. Shut up. No. This is inarguably - inarguably - a failure of leadership from the top of the federal government."


avik said...

you know who reads "moby dick" in the summer? girls trying to impress the wordy new prof from the cultural mosaic heartland of ontari-ari-ario by pretending she didn't watch every rerun of Nick and Jessica's Newlyweds. and you can tell her i said that.

on a totally unrelated note: "Bush doesn't like black people." Kanye's going to do the NFL kick-off Monday. my current life revolving around blue collar ignorance and white collar impartiality doesn't allow any intellectually stimulating opinions on this marginally trivial statement (i miss that about university life). comments?


Lesley said...

Interesting. As a UWO alumni, it's always neat to hear how other schools do. Crikes, when I was at the school, they ALWAYS took attendance and it seemed like you did poorly in class if you didn't spend as much of your free time kissing the prof's ass in his office during his weekly office hours. Good luck to you this year! P.S. Wish my prof's had used Fuck more, it would have made the student reviews so much easier to fill out!

mr. tomas ubik said...

i thought it was fatty illegal to eat and drink guiness at one time.

youre going to kill yourself man, that shit sticks to the gut like a suck up who says they read moby dick.

i woulda thrown a book at her, and said "EAZZZY Poolie".

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across your blog while I should be editing stuff. I teach sessional sometimes at MUN in another department.

I find a big difference between the students from 'urban' areas like the Northeast Avalon, Grand Falls, Gander, Corner Brook, etc., and those from rural communities. As a native Newfoundlander who, has also just started his academic career, I'm also shocked with how lazy the students are. Then again, up to now, I've had a narrow sample of the province's population: most of my friends and family are work-a-holics and type-A personalities, unlike, it seems, most of the students. :)

So have you identified your 'vapour students' -- the ones who will only show up the first day of class, hand in no assignments, and then show up for the final hoping to somehow pass the course? Or have you ID'd the one student for the term who will try every day to "stump the prof?" because you're new and young? I can't wait to get tenure somewhere so I can tell that latter type to shut up! :)

I post anonymously for the obvious reason that I dont want others at MUN stumbling across my opinion. :) Have a good term!