Saturday, September 19, 2009

No prior knowledge assumed?

This week I was talking to an international student about my 100-level history class. The class is a pretty broad survey of European history between c. 1300 and 1700. In theory, the class requires no prerequisites. But in talking to this student, I realized that isn't quite true. 

I do assume, when teaching an introductory class, that my students have had some history in high school. I assume that they've gotten a basic narrative of western history, that they've heard of feudalism, the Renaissance, and Martin Luther. My class is usually designed to take apart paradigms that I believe to be familiar, and to interrogate assumptions about what, for example, "the Renaissance" means.

This student, however, is Asian, and has had very little exposure to European history. It's kind of startling to me to think about how to teach in a way that genuinely did not assume any prior knowledge of the period being taught. How would I teach a whole class full of such students? I would really need to rethink the way I introduce all kinds of topics. With only one student in this situation, I'm less inclined to make major changes, but it's worthwhile to keep the lack of familiarity with the topic in mind. Perhaps I should even make fewer assumptions about what my American students may know.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Why, pray tell, does the latest version of MS Word have separate buttons labelled "Insert Footnote" and "Insert Citation"? Since I (and I suspect, most college professors) use the terms somewhat interchangeably, this is confusing. And I frankly don't understand what the program is doing when it "inserts citation"--it's not actually putting in a footnote. 

I've been fielding a lot of student questions about citation lately.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Is it possible I might one day do research again?

My new job is time-intensive, but yesterday I managed to get a little ahead on class prep, and today I had some time to think. I wrote up an abstract and made some lists:

goals for the year

materials to get from the library

ideas I might want to pursue in the future

I keep most of such notes on the computer, and I have a terrible time keeping track of such stuff. On the list of goals, in fact, is "for the love of God, reorganize the files so I can find things." My system of electronic file-keeping broke down once I moved beyond my dissertation materials, and whenever I try to find an idea or reference I wrote down, I end up searching in five different folders, opening and closing a dozen different files before I find what I'm looking for. 

I think I have a pretty manageable agenda for the year, and we'll see how things go.

Now back to paper grading and class prep.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Stuff about my new job

  • Surprise, surprise! My every-day teaching schedule consumes a lot of time and energy. 
  • Graded the first batch of student papers, and they were generally pretty good.
  • I have a nagging fear I'm a way-too-lenient grader. The fact that the college actually circulates our grade distributions contributes to this fear.
  • I am not convinced that my brand-new rubric saved me any grading time. Don't know if I need to just get used to it, tweak it, or simplify it dramatically.
  • My fellow first-year faculty are cool and we get along well.
  • Students here actually come to my office. I think I've had a visit from at least one every day.
  • Our library doesn't have some books I'd like them to have. I don't know if there's enough room in the budget to pick them all up.
  • ...there was another thing, but I've forgotten it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


The first week of the tenure track is now behind me.

My college does not assign advising or committee responsibilities to first-year tenure-track profs. I appreciate this policy on a number of levels, but in the last week I have found myself actually wishing I had more responsibilities. All I really have to do right now is teach my classes, and that's not so different from my last few years as a contract lecturer.

As a contract lecturer, I showed up, I taught my classes, I attended the occasional campus social event, and I spent the rest of my time in my office. Sometimes preparing classes and meeting with students, but sometimes working on my job applications, writing, or just killing time. It was easy to focus on my students and otherwise float through my days.

That mindset, of not being fully connected to the college community, is one I need to avoid slipping into. That's why it would be nice to have additional responsibilities, as a reminder that my position on campus needs to be somewhat different. I've tried to decide for myself that, in addition to teaching, my job consists of figuring SLAC out: getting to know people, figuring out how things work, getting a sense of the overall community.