Back into the fire

After six weeks of flextime, I’m headed back to class today for a five-week teaching assignment.  It’s been nice to have the unscheduled time, and it’s been surprisingly productive.  I got to visit Seattle, give a conference paper, hang out with friends; to write a book review; to work on a chapter for a book called Teaching with Student Texts.  Ann and I got to hang out a lot, and I got to read some cool novels.

But now all that’s gotta slow down for a while.  I like teaching summer classes because they’re so condensed, but I’ve never done a 5-day/week summer class.  It’s also an ADP class, and my experience with that program has been kind of strange.  The whole program is loaded politically in a way that I approve of and don’t, all at the same time.  Obviously, as a faculty member at a public university, I’m committed to access for as many students as we can provide for.  I’m also committed to access for students whose traditional credentials don’t match the profile of our usual students.  These are the kinds of things that distinguish my job from, say, teaching at Swarthmore or Haverford, or a more research-intensive public university.

At the same time, the ADP program tends to treat students in a really heavy-handed way.  The boot-campy intensity of it isn’t the problem; the problem is that they treat the students exactly in the way that made many of the students resistant to education in the first place.  Maturing as a student is about learning to manage the trust put in you by the system–coming to class without the threat of arrest for truancy; figuring out how to manage your time when you’re only in class a couple of hours a day; learning to balance the need to think for yourself with the demands put on you take on specific styles of talking and writing.  Sometimes the program makes those hard for students by overseeing them too tightly.

To a certain degree, the way the program manages the students isn’t my concern.  I can, if I try really hard, just duck those issues, run the class, grade the papers, and be done with it.  But I have to try really hard at that.  It’s my inclination, most of the time, to engage issues of resistance head-on by making spaces to talk about and work through them as a group.  I’m a little gun-shy about this based on my last experience (several years ago, and with a group of students who to this day have a reputation for being, um, feisty).  By allowing the students to vent about the program requirements in class, I also allowed them to poison the class atmosphere by making everything about how much they resented the program.  I also allowed a few particularly aggressively vocal students to take over the class, which may well have hurt other students.

So the trick is to figure out how to enable the students to work their ways through what’s happening to them, but not on the backs of other students who aren’t struggling with it in the same way.  How that goes will depend to a large degree on the specific group of students.  They all live together and take other classes together during the summer program, which (when it works well) can really help them form a supportive cohort and (when it works badly) can produce a wolf-pack mentality that fights too much for its own good.

Wish us luck…

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