There's an emphasis here on doing themes. No more, we're told, can you just teach first year writing; nope, you need a theme. Preferably, this theme should be exciting to students! Pop culture! Vampires! I don't feel much connection with pop culture; I've never been hip, even when I was in my 20s. I'm less hip as a 50 year old.
I teach two such courses a year, every semester, pretty much year in, year out. I rotate some essay topics in and out, change up some things, but mostly, I do slow changes, rather than big ones. That means I don't have to redo the whole syllabus every year.
So this year, I chose my theme as something to do with education and the individual. I added some essays to the reading, dropped other things, switched out an essay topic, and so forth.
They want us to come up with new themes every year. I'm sure that sounds good to the folks who teach the same intro to chemistry course every semester, but if you really prepare seriously, it's hard to come up with new themes all the time.
We do senior seminars for our majors; each major has to take a number of these seminars, depending on the program. And they're great. They give our lit folks, especially, an opportunity to be in a small class (the other lit courses tend to run 30-35, while the writing folks' courses are capped at 15). It's also their real opportunity to be in class with people who aren't GE students, but have taken theory and other lit courses. The quality of discussion is just wonderful, especially compared to the GE courses. (It's not that our GE students are bad, but they don't know how to talk about lit in the same way that people who've practiced talking about lit do.) (It's hard to quantify for assessment, but our students really do learn a lot of critical skills through our majors, especially in terms of reading lit and talking about stuff.)
Our seminar situation is, in short, a grad student's wet dream. It's that ideal interview question: if you were to teach a senior seminar in your field, what would you teach? Now imagine answering that question for the next 15 years without constantly repeating yourself. It gets more difficult, doesn't it.
This year, my seminar focuses on the Other in early modern drama. I've taught the same basic course a couple years ago, and it was good, but this one is going even better. I've read a lot more recent work in the area, and there's a lot of work being done on the Ottoman empire and early modern Europe and such, and I'm grateful for the historians and lit crit and po-co folks who are leading the way.
Last year, I did death in early modern culture, and it wasn't as good as I wished it were. Previously, I've done a sort of staging history (history plays, mostly), and I did a Marlowe course.
Now it's time to think of next year. I really like the Other course, but I want to give it a year's rest, because students who are fairly advanced might want to take two seminars in early Brit, and I want them to be able to if they'd like. (This mostly happens with linguistics folks.)
Our undergrad programs give majors and minors a fair bit of breadth, but relatively little depth, canon-wise, so almost anything, even if it seems "old" in a grad program, will still feel pretty fresh around here. And our area is pretty conservative, so doing a queer Renaissance sort of course would seem scary to a fair number of our students (and perfectly normal to others).
I'm mostly a drama person, but I could do a poetry oriented seminar. I don't think I could do a Milton seminar without being miserable (because I don't keep up on Milton criticism, so I'd have a lot of catching up to do).
Who's got a great idea? I have the summer to work it up, along with the three courses I'll be teaching in England, and the other two courses I'll be teaching when I get back (a new theme for writing will probably be necessary, for example; the other course is likely to be Shakespeare GE). (Isn't it great to have summers "off"?)