Monday, August 29, 2005

Now back to our regularly scheduled program, already in progress

Today was the first day of classes. Other than slight increase in phone calls and e-mails, it was pretty uneventful. Tomorrow I teach my first class. I haven't been in the classroom in over two years. I'm not really nervous, though, because I've been "teaching" in one form or another for the last 2.5 years.

It's an odd class we're teaching. It is both a writing class and also a way to introduce freshman to the kind of reading and writing skills they will need in college. Grading is not terribly strict. In fact, grades on individual assignments are discouraged while a portfolio or culminating collection of assignments that will figure prominently into the final grade is recommended. I'm not opposed to these kinds of guidelines. It just feels odd to someone who's spent most of her time in classes with fairly strict sequencing of assignments or at the very least, grading of individual assignments. Frankly, I'd like to not give grades at all and simply give to each person an evalution of how I think they did--where their strengths and weaknesses lie--without a grade attached. I'm a little worried that the students will be clamoring for grades. They will want to know, for example, what counts as an "A" blog post. It's hard to say, of course. Just as it's sometimes hard to say for any piece of writing.

I've come to think of my blog as a whole, not a series of individual posts. There are good posts and bad. There are filler posts. There are narrative posts; there are rants and rhetorical arguments. It's not really a cohesive whole if read from start to finish (though that might be an interesting thing to do), but it does give somewhat of an impression of who I am and the kinds of things I think about. And, I'm also aware of my blog as part of a community of other blogs. As an example, over the last week, I've been reading many, many posts about the start of school, from all different perspectives and disciplines. Some people have their first jobs; some are in the second or third year. Some are just post tenure. Others are staff members or administrators. Still others are in that limbo state of being a student and a teacher at the same time. Reading all of these gives me some kind of comfort, a shared experience.

And then there are others in connected but slightly peripheral communities. Many of us are joined by our politics, by parenthood, and even by location. And this, I think, is the question I want my students to wrestle with? How does one write within all these varied communities? When you write, are you aware of the community or do you write only for yourself? What's the difference? When you read, do you situate the writer within a community? How do you piece together a whole identity out of disparate parts? If they wrestle with these questions well--among many other questions that will come up--they will do well in the class.

A side note. I was thinking about this whole community thing, both because that is the first assignment for the class to write about, but also in response, oddly enough, to AiE's post about running, a beautiful post and one I could relate to even though I'm not a runner myself. As far as I can tell, about the only thing AiE have in common is that we were both once academics and quit, and probably our politics. I bumped into her blog through this little web of blogs I call a community and have read it every day for at least a year. If not for the blog, I would probably never have met someone like her. Our interests seem too disparate for us to have met in real life. She's a runner, athletic, likes to watch lots of sports. I am not and I don't. For many of the other blogs I read, I can see that our interests don't necessarily overlap. Unlike my real-life friends with whom I have a great deal in common (especially since many of us work at the same institution), my blog friends are at least slightly more diverse. And I make a continued effort to expand this little web, trying to find blogs that I like by people that may not be like me at all.

It's a complex little virtual world out here and I'm about to plunge my students into it. I hope they come out of it okay.