Ready to kick off the new semester

Saturday afternoon at the Gryphon Cafe in Wayne.  Ann and I came out for our typical worky Saturday, and to see “In the Loop” at the theater next door.  I figured it would take hours to get ready for Monday and Tuesday’s classes, even though both courses I’m teaching (Comp and Conventions of Reading and Writing) are courses I’ve taught many times before.  Instead, I’m about as prepped as I’m going to get.  So I’m going to think about what to expect this semester, partially an exercise in speculation like I’m asking my comp students to do.

As I wrote in my last post, I’m really excited about teaching 4 classes again.  While my non-teaching commitments have certainly grown, I no longer face the daily dread of directing the comp program.  I don’t have to wig out every time the phone rings or an e-mail pops up, thinking that every contact is a demand for something.  One of the things I’ve learned in the last two years is that my leadership skills, such as they are, are really specific.  I’m at my best when I work among a group, working on projects with a bunch of people.  I’m not strong with administrative details.  I knew that already, of course, but to say that’s been reaffirmed would be an understatement of the first order.

One of the things I’m most excited about this semester is getting back to doing nothing but ethnographic writing in my comp classes.  For the last several years, I’ve experimented with putting ethnographic writing into a variety of contexts, that is, putting in service to other curricular or pedagogical goals.  A worthy experiment, I think, but maybe the most important outcome is that I’ve reclaimed my commitment to ethnography.  The essay for Writing Spaces certainly helped; it made me reflect on 12 years of teaching, what I’ve learned about it, and how to talk about ethnography to students.  I’ve also thought about the other kinds of writing I asked students to do, and none of it has been as satisfying.  In revising the course for this semester, I’ve put back together some pieces that needed taking apart and examining individually.  Now we’re ready to go.

The Conventions course should be better.  I’ll be teaching for (I think) the fifth time.  Over the few years I’ve been working on it, I’ve generally been satisfied with the results, but it’s never felt like it really made sense.  One reason for that, of course, is that the description is still too big.  At some point, I imagine we’ll be able to sort that out–the assessment I’m so not interested in working on will probably show us where we’re not getting and where we probably shouldn’t go.  But I think I’ve figured out how to frame the course, from the beginning, so that the disparate threads we explore (yeah, I know, mixed metaphor) make at least some sense together.  I’ve managed, especially the last two semesters, to pull together some coherent description of what we’ve learned.  The students shouldn’t have to wait ’til the last week of class, though, before they hear that description.  As I’ve gotten a little less resistant to lecturing in recent years, I’ve realized I can tell them in the first two days of class most of what they need to know in order to establish a reasonable context for our pursuits.  We’ll see how well it works this time.

Heading into a second year as Grievance chair, my big hope is that I can begin to assemble a working knowledge of all the policies and procedures that people ask me about.  I’ve joked with several people that our last 4 Grievance chairs (two of whom have also been Chapter presidents and one vp) can cite the CBA chapter and verse, and I can see why they need to.  There’s a part of me that would like to stop being involved in Meet and Discuss; it’s easy to want to defer complicated grievance issues to M&D and vice versa.  But I don’t really think that’s a good idea; maybe it’s just an urge to go to fewer meetings.

The big new service project this year is participating in a Work Group for our accreditation self-study.  I know a little about accreditation processes, but not much.  I also know that several units around our system manage to use accreditation standards to argue for all sorts of pro-faculty policies.  The Dean of our College of Business and Public Affairs, for example, uses his field’s accreditation standards to argue that his faculty all need one–course reassignments in order to produce scholarship worthy of accreditation.  From an outsider’s point of view, it’s outrageous (and worthy of some jealousy) that he pulled this off (even though I personally want to teach 4, I know most people don’t).  So I’m hoping I can learn enough from being involved in this process to be able to advocate for faculty from a position of something other than empathy.

And if all goes well, JongHwa and I will be finished with the Rhetorical Activists manuscript; we can sign a contract, let the editors have their way with it, and be finished with a project that has taken waaaaaaaay too long to complete.

A good hopeful note to end on!

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