Friday, November 6, 2009

I'm An Adjunct: Progress Report

I haven't written much about the actual work behind my teaching a graduate seminar as an adjunct at a nearby (defined as "within two hours by public transportation") university. On the bright side, this means I haven't felt the need to anonymously vent about the course or my students.

I have seven students. One is non-traditional, taking a course just to keep her hand in the "professional development" of her field. One speaks English as a second language. Those are my greatest challenges, which is to say that the course is going wonderfully, better than I could have expected, at least from my perspective.

The seminar is two hours, two days a week. When designing my syllabus, I phrased each day's topic as a question. The first hour is led by one of the students, who provides a summary of the day's readings and leads discussion on each article and how they might fit together to answer the day's question. The second hour of class is me getting up and attempting to answer that question myself, and then providing background on the readings for the next class. This leaves me with only one hour of material to prepare each class, and more importantly, only one hour of talking.

Amazingly enough, the class has never got out more than 15 minutes early. Somehow, with only the vaguest idea of what I was doing, I put together a reading list that lets students keep each other occupied for an hour (with occasional input from me, of course). Even more amazingly, I have mastered that Professor skill, which is To Profess. I have heard this from various workshop speakers throughout the years, a comment to the tune of "I'm a professor, so I will just stand up here and speak at you for an hour if you don't stop me with questions". It turns out that I can do this, even on topics not directly related to my research. Every morning on that two-hour commute I refresh myself on the readings and put together some notes, and every afternoon I manage to talk for an hour on what the students should have got out of those readings. Some days I have no idea where this information comes from; it's just there. Surely that's a hallmark of a professor?

I could be wrong in thinking that my students are getting what they need/want out of the class, or otherwise finding it useful. There's enough "lecture" that they should not feel my complain from my own graduate seminars, which was that there was a lot of discussion and not much teaching going on. I haven't been able to bring myself to conduct a more formal survey of student opinion, partly because the course is only for 10 weeks, but mostly because of that blurry graduate student as teacher / graduate student and students line, which I'm wary of crossing. I managed to grade their first papers without problems, feeling myself fully in the role of Expert, or rather More Expert, but my inoculations against undergraduate student opinion have not transferred to graduate students.

We're on the downhill slope now, past the halfway mark for the course, and I'm almost sad. Actually I'm mostly sad, because I love teaching and probably won't do any more for the rest of the year; but only allowing myself to be almost sad, because I do need that time freed up to finish my dissertation, so I can teach more classes next year.

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