About pacing yourself

This comment from the weekend has stuck in my craw a bit.  Aside from its slightly sanctimonious air, what’s puzzling about it is that it seems to assume that there are no costs to infinite creativity.   But that’s just not true.

This semester, I have 2 wholly new courses (the League course & the Digital Literary Studies course), and an extensively re-tooled one (the Victorian Age).  Next semester I have 3 new preps–one team-taught course, a topics course on cyberpunk (which has to be different from the last time I taught this, because of new rules affecting certain gen ed courses), the department’s intro to the major course–plus, again, a retooled course (the Victorian novel).  The next time I get to run out a largely set syllabus is when I teach the survey again in Spring 2009.  But, that semester I’m teaching a grad class for the first time, which I hear is prep intensive.

On the one hand, all these courses are pretty exciting.  I stay fresh; I get lots of repeat students; I’m pretty good at putting together interesting reading lists.

On the other hand, all this new stuff leads directly to my worst professorial habit: A wholly unjustified frustration, verging on fury, when some students turn out not to be all that engaged in the class.  When I propose the schedule, every time I think, “well, it’ll be a lot of work, but think how much fun it will be–and think of how much people will like the course!  We’ll all learn so much.”

Inevitably, though, not all students will like a particular class, and that dislike/indifference will be manifest both in their in-class affect (what I’ve sometimes called being “aggressively sullen”) and in shoddy work.

I react to this in a couple of different ways, all of them bad–the occasional outburst in class, holding on to papers for a r-e-a-l-l-y long time, depression–in effect, I mourn the gap between the class in my head and the actual class’s enactment.  I’ll find myself thinking, “you know, I could’ve just recycled the same old material semester after semester . . .”

But this isn’t exactly fair, and is just a product of being tired.  When rested, I’m perfectly capable of admitting, even encouraging, students in their different interests, and recognize that student disengagement isn’t always (often?) about me.  I even remember that the fact that *some* students aren’t interested doesn’t mean that some/many are.

So, I stand by what I said before: it’s not necessary to constantly re-invent everything about your classes, and, more than this, doing so can have unexpected costs.

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