Friday, December 31, 2010

The Deanling and I Disconnected

I didn't mean to sound totally unsympathetic to the deanling yesterday. S/he's a fine person, though a little rigid. But we're working from different assumptions.

English departments, at least mine, are a bit weird. I have friends in other departments, and they teach the same three courses over and over. Maybe they're the theory in underwater basketweaving person, so each semester they teach one of the intro underwater basketweaving GEs, an intro theory course, and an advanced theory course. And the next semester, they basically teach the same courses. Some folks may teach one of two courses at the upper level, so they switch off semester to semester.

In contrast, here's what my schedule was supposed to look like this year (before I got a partial reassignment):

Comp (5 cr)
Intro to Theory (3 cr)
Seminar in Early Brit Lit (Other) (3 cr)

Gateway to English major (5 cr)
Intro to Poetry (3)
Chaucer (3)

And last year:

Comp (5)
Intro to Drama (3)
Seminar in Early Brit Lit (Death) (3)

Comp (5)
Shakespeare (3)
Chaucer (3)

(The basic pattern is a 5 cr writing course, a lower level course, and an upper level course.)

We have four people who can (and like to) teach Shakespeare, 3-4 who can (and like to) teach poetry, 2 who can teach drama. (Not counting adjuncts, who sometimes fill in on the drama). Currently, I'm the only person who wants to teach Chaucer (which is just so sad.)

So, in most departments, that introductory level course (for me, poetry, drama, Shakespeare) is going to be taught over and over again by the same person, so if you attach some special thing to it for doing something, then the same person just does it again and again. Imagine, for example, that someone who taught the Shakespeare class always focused on gender and family. If there were a gender and family requirement, it might be reasonable to make the class carry special credit.

But, if we have four people who teach the class, and gender and family isn't always everyone's focus, then it doesn't make sense to try to get that on the books. It still makes sense that it should count for a literature GE, though.

I think that's part of the basic disconnect between the deanling and me. S/he's a smart, good person, but from a department where one person teaches basically the same set of courses from hiring to retirement, updating to keep up, of course, but the title is unlikely to change. No one else teaches those courses, except if there's a sabbatical or illness, so it's basically the same.

In contrast, we have three people who teach these lit of different culture courses, depending on who's doing what (one is a deanling, one has been on sabbatical, one is heading into a special position). They aren't all taught every term, but our major requirements are written so that one student might take a senior seminar in one area and a sophomore level course in another, and a different student might do the reverse.

This issue is also causing us problems with our new GE system, which is supposed to be built around themes. The idea is that a group of students will take a group of courses all about one theme (love and family, say) in different areas of study, and they'll be able to put together connections with unicorns and rainbows. (I sound cynical, but I don't actually hate the idea; I just think we're not implementing very well).

It's easy to say, if you're the theory of basketweaving person, that hey, the intro basketweaving theory fits the "complex patterns" theme! And I teach it all the time, so it always will. I'll add this one bit so it fits better, and voila! And it won't hurt the students who aren't in the theme group.

It's harder if you're one of four Shakespeare people, and trying to fit a year ahead into a theme when you may or may not be going to teach Shakespeare in a given semester anyway. And if you do, you won't be teaching it the next time because it's someone else's. And besides, who really wants to always teach Shakespeare "love and family"? Not I. (This is not to say that we don't discuss family issues in respect to specific plays, but that it's not the theme of the course.)

Here's an added issue. People who teach the same course over and over are eager to do something different. People who teach five preps a year, one of which is likely to be new or a second go (my seminar), might have less energy for creating a special new course. I think that's a problem.

And finally, we keep hearing that we English department folks should teach our comp course so that it fits whatever theme someone else wants. Seriously, teach a biology themed comp course! Teach a geology themed comp course! I would be quite happy to teach a lit themed comp course, but they seem to think that's what we do in comp all the time anyway. (And that's a different argument.) All of the themes so far are very "it's new, it's now!" based; so it's hard to think how those are going to work well for those of us who like really dead writers, artists, or peoples.


  1. Especially those of us who like the really dead writers and their periods BECAUSE they are strange, different, not-like-now.

  2. It's so frustrating when folks in other departments have ideas of how your courses should be run, isn't it?

    I've had a prof in Other Field be critical of my class for five years, yet he has no idea what I really do in that class. Drives me nuts.

    Hope the deanling can be made to understand.

  3. Anonymous11:50 PM

    We have a parallel problem at my CC... the Global Studies folks put a bunch of GE courses into their certificate and now they expect the folks who are teaching these GE courses to include global (not well defined, by the way) components, when they haven't even TOLD the departments this is a requirement.

    Further, we're in a similar situation -- where one person doesn't teach the same course over and over again... so, now we're supposed to persuade ALL the folks teaching these particular GE classes to adjust their courses for the needs of the certificate... ummm... maybe not.

  4. I had a somewhat related problem when proposing new graduate courses. We wanted some courses that could be taught by two or more faculty so proposed titles like "Themes in British History" and "Themes in Modern European History" only to get complaints from the graduate council. Their problem? We weren't concrete on the themes. Wasn't there a universal set of themes we'd all be teaching to? (Coverage!) In the end, they let our general-purpose courses through with the all-important change to "Selected Themes in *Insert Subfield*".