Monday, August 12, 2013

Sitting Here in Limbo

I can't say what life will show me
But I know where I've been
I can't say where life will lead me
But I know what I've seen
Tried my hand at love and friendship
But all that is passed and gone
This little boy is moving on...

There's a lot of activity in the back of my brain these days—nothing completely conscious yet but a kind of anticipatory subliminal gurgling or burbling—about what I will be trying to do this fall when I return to the classroom for what will in all likelihood be the last time. In anticipation of the small move next week to a new office and the large move in January to a new state, I've been going through my books and files and winnowing them down, and all along as I have been doing so I've been stirring up memories of what I've read and taught and written in the past, and pondering which things I might want to ask the students to try again this fall. At the same time I'm thinking, again in a kind of preliminary way, about what I might want to do that I have never done before.

It's always been hard for me to plan in advance anyway. I once taught down the hall from a woman who had her lesson plan book filled out in August for the entire year, every single day. She would stand up at staff meetings and oppose planned field trips on the grounds that if students were to skip a day it would mess up her entire plan for the year. On the one hand I was impressed; on the other hand I was, and remain, horrified. I really feel like I need to get into the room with the students and get a read on where they are and what kinds of experiences and attitudes and inclinations they have already before I can plan what to do next. Throughout most of my career my "plan book" has been actually filled out after the fact, so I know where I've been, but the plan has evolved in large part from day to day.

Which is not to say that chaos will reign. There are some general curricular constraints: books we've agreed to read as a subdepartment (Joy Luck Club, Othello), implicit and explicit expectations about quantity of writing and the qualitative standards that are to be highlighted, an emphasis on metacognition, my own philosophical orientation to working with students to help them investigate the various ways in which reading, writing, and thinking enrich and support one another. I've been doing this work for forty plus years and have a pretty clear sense of the general parameters of what the semester will look and feel like. But what I'm really looking forward to is the surprises. (May they all be happy ones.)

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