If I were a better blogger, if I were to keep the journaling / notetaking up more consistently and be more precise with my observations, I bet I would find that every semester has a predictable rhythm. Because I am a sporadic blogger, I will just have to trust my memory, and record the rhythms of this semester.
1. Good (even high) energy start: students are excited to be at college, I have a pretty good set of icebreaking exercises--I've gotten off to a good start in the fall the last 4 years--memory starts to fade after that.
2. Energy drop about week 3 or 4. Students get overwhelmed and over-extended, the fun icebreaking gets replaced by the work of the class, they don't really trust me until they get grades. Then they just hate me ; )
3. Weeks 5-10 have ups and downs, but generally smooth sailing. Everybody gets in a rhythm, the occasional class goes "clunk," but overall, these weeks seem low maintenance.
4. Weeks 11-14 are tough. Everybody is exhausted, some people bail out. I might have lost 2 who were attending with some regularlity. I know I have lost three who have exceeded the limit. Even though students might be enjoying their work on PPT videos, they are tired in class. I worry that the videos might actually wipe a few of them out. I try to stay positive and upbeat here, but this stretch is tough.
I'm going linger here for a bit, because this exhaustion is what motivated me to write this entry. I see the exhaustion in my students, in the TAs, and while I am little tired myself, that is mainly because I couldn't sleep worrying about others' exhaustion. This collective exhaustion makes me question some of the work I am assigning, and the courses I am designing. Are there ways I can alter this pattern, or are the larger social factors--declining sunlight, absence of a fall semester break, first semester for 110 students and TAs--simply too great of an obstacle to overcome? We talked about assignments in TA strategies class yesterday: are there too many? Are some too difficult or simply too boring?
I have noticed another factor that plays a role in our teacher's rhythm right now--spring book orders. Two years ago I just locked up--I couldn't decide what to do in 120, which lead to my worst semester of 120. This year, I can't decide whether to stay with White Like Me or try out They Know What You Want. I think making this decision is incredibly difficult and anxiety producing when the fall semester is at such a tough point. And in thinking about these choices, I am trying to think about the rhythm of the spring semester. This year, I am also trying to think about the Fall 2007 TAs, and what their semester might look like. WLM would be the more familiar kind of text--memoir, substantial issue, a discussion generator. That is probably a good thing to keep in mind. Rebecca was talking about the troubles her students had rhetorically analyzing WLM, and 110 students had lots of trouble with FRC. Maybe a tweak to the assignment would be to pick a story within a chapter--every chapter has multiple stories. I think the commentary to follow WLM also needs to be supported by some fairly concrete, operational activities. Maybe I need to go back to a genre choice: memoir or commentary, with memoir defined as 80% you and 20% argument, and commentary as 80% argument and 20% you?
Okay, I think I just wrote myself into a decision, which is what these blogging things are all about, right? So, you are now wondering, what happens during weeks 15-16?
After thanksgiving, students come back surprisingly upbeat. They know that if they make it back, they will be okay. They realize that even though they might have received a D or two, they can now revise, and they can drop one assignment. In a good semester, they feel like they have really accomplished something--you offered them a challenge, and they made it. They might even feel like they have learned something.