Thursday, November 12, 2015

Talk Amongst Yourselves

I really wish we lit folks here at NWU had more time and energy to talk about lit stuffs together.  We're an unwieldy group, a lot of us, spread all over lit, theory, and pop culture sorts of stuff, but I'd really like to know what sorts of assignments my colleagues assign at different levels, how we see our assignments building skills and knowledge (if we do), how much reading we think is reasonable for our students at different levels, how much time we expect our students to spend on our courses, and so on.

It's hard, also, I think, because we're often a bit defensive.  The older folks are worried that we're not cutting edge enough, not theoretical enough, or doing the "wrong" theory.  The younger folks are worried that the tenured folks will use information against them somehow.  And we're all a bit worried, maybe, that people will think we're not working hard enough.  (I think I've mentioned, critically, a colleague who decided to use multiple choice tests for her intro courses?)

And we're all feeling absolutely overworked and looking for ways to make things a bit easier.

How much do you communicate with colleagues in your field about work loads and assignments for students?  About managing your own work loads?

Is there a good way to facilitate this sort of discussion?

(I'm thinking of inviting my colleagues to my house for hot cocoa and cookies during the winter "break" period to talk about lit and share assignments and such.)


  1. Huh, I would have said "all the time," but now that I think about it, it's more like "all the time with the younger history faculty and the lone art historian on campus, hardly at all with other lit folks." It's just occurred to me that I don't really socialize with any of the other English faculty, except at formal occasions like the annual holiday reception at the president's house; it isn't that I don't like them, it's just that they're mostly very senior to me and almost universally married with children, and we just never clicked enough to get all nerdy about pedagogy together.

  2. At Field College, we talked about teaching and assignments and such a LOT.

    At Idyllic State, I'd say...very very little, so far. But that's part of the change in institutional type.

    I think that your idea of getting everyone together for cocoa and lit/pedagogy is a great one!

  3. The school where I did my master's had a little department handbook that had descriptions of "this is what a 200-level class should look like; this is what a 300-level class should look like, etc." It was immensely helpful, in my opinion, as a brand new teacher. It allowed for plenty of academic freedom, but it was specific enough to say that about 10 pages of writing or 20 pages of writing overall would be expected in a 200-level or 300-level class respectively. There were recommendations for how much theory to incorporate, too, and at what level. Overall, it was a dream department compared to a lot of the other places I've worked, and they were all super collegial and supportive. They even had two administrative assistants! (We don't even have one.) I kind of wish I could have gotten a job there, despite it's terrible location.

    Here in the Heartland, we share assignments occasionally, but not as much as you'd think. The writing faculty are very defensive about their assignments in particular, and kind of circle their wagons around them to ward off literature intruders (despite the fact that we are sometimes called upon to teach writing. We mainly wing it, since we aren't allowed into the inner circle). In 300-level literature classes, I never give tests, and I have the students write an average of about 25-30 pages, total, plus an annotated bibliography. They read an article for every work we read. Sometimes we also read something from philosophy (Aristotle or similar).

    But I don't talk about it much with my colleagues. They act like they don't really want to know.

  4. I've always shared a lot--by which I mean pretty much everything, from syllabi to assignments to handouts to lesson plans--but I've never been in a TT position, and I share the most with the other instructors/faculty who were also not TT. There's a lot of freedom when you know you won't be fired because there's already an end date on your grad school time or postdoc.

  5. Multiple choice? Augh! I admit, in quizzes I've offered "matching" questions for low points, just to get students thinking about who/what links up with where/when.

    I find that something informal and friendly, like your cocoa and cookies idea, might be a good start. Mention that you'd love to share and brainstorm on pedagogy - ask everyone to bring an idea of a teaching activity they're proud of and want to share, something neat they'd like to discuss and a problem they'd like to have support on?

  6. At my previous job, we had a series of brown-bag lunches within the department on teaching topics. Basically, the person who ran it would contact people to talk about whatever topic (usually 2-4 people on each), so pretty much everyone presented at least once over the course of a couple of years. Initially I went just to support my friends, but I learned a lot. That also encouraged a culture of following up, asking to see syllabi, or sitting in on a class.

    We don't do that at my new job, but there's a robust observation program (everyone is observed by peers multiple times a year). That's nice.