Obviously my weekly updates have gone off the rails. Too many things, not enough dissertation. But I’ll run it down anyhow… real quick.
Things include, but are not limited to, a teaching evaluation and a four-day trip to Tennessee.
First, the evaluation. I requested this of the Center for Teaching and Learning from the four-year college. Instead of the traditional observation, they did a focus group on the class. The bland responses didn’t signal anything particularly wrong, but provided insight on what I can do to improve the experience. These include lists of key concepts/events and prompt questions posted before class begins and better coverage of the period we are going over (these students would hate a half-assed version of Lendol Calder’s business). This means, basically, I have to lecture more effectively, and demand more of them in discussions. I got these results last Thursday, right before leaving. This Monday and Wednesday classes have proven promising with the tweaks.
I like this focus-group method better than the usual technique of having students fill out a sheet at the end of the semester. As it happens, I picked up my evaluations from the world history class I taught last year and it’s funny reading because—from student to student—the classes either “bring history to life,” or they are boring. The readings are too much, or too little. The lectures are perfect summaries, or they are disorganized bores. The discussions are too easy, or too confusing. The students speak too much, or too little. And to think, these evaluations are critical to my employment future.
It’s fine. I like improving my techniques. I never put anything on the syllabus or try anything in class that I don’t think of as tentative, and subject to improvement or dismissal. Despite my long-standing (well, as long as I’ve been teaching) objection to lecturing, I’m coming around to picking up some skills in the craft. Some day, I might be o.k. at it. Many of my self-imagined brilliant project ideas are going to get the boot after this semester. I am even finding Powerpoints sort of useful, if you can believe that.
This relevance of all this is currently high as I am sending out job applications and expecting (hoping) to start selling people on my teaching style and classroom techniques. Experimentation is a welcome thing, right?
I’m going to skip the trip to Tennessee, but for those of you who know, it was a blast.
Because of all this, I haven’t got a thing done on my dissertation for over two weeks. This has given me ample time to question the idea of going forward with Chapter 1. My confidence got wacked a bit last week when I had lunch with a senior scholar and I really failed to adequately explain what this thing is all about. The main thing, however, is that I am very unhappy with Chapter 2 and it’s many shortcomings. I feel I need to go back and work on it some more, and there is nothing I hate more than not moving forward. To this end, I need to gather up and read a few books, somehow get a dissertation from Emory that is non-circulating, track down those damn Methodist records, and hopefully hit that archive in central Pennsylvania. And, rewrite.
I don’t know if I want to do this (not everything is in place to start on it today, or Monday), or just go ahead with Chapter 1.
I’ll let you know next week.