Spring break is wrapping up, with just a few days until Spring term begins. I teach in a quarter system, which means three terms during the traditional school year and a summer term as well, which is optional for faculty. What this means is winter term/quarter ends, we get a week off, and spring term/quarter begins. During the so-called break, I, and I assume many others in the same boat, work from home getting ready for the new classes. So, for me, the break isn't much of a break but instead it's a time to work around all the chores that need someone at home--a piano tuning, new tires for one of the cars, scheduled maintenance for the same car, a little extra cleaning (maybe) and who knows what all else--while also preparing for classes.
One of my classes doesn't need much new prep. That's English 101, first year composition, or college composition as we call it. I just finished teaching that a couple weeks ago so won't be making any significant changes. If you want to see what that course is about , you can click on the "English 101 unSpun" link off to the right. All I had to do there was change the dates in the schedule. The real work for that class starts with the class itself.
My second of three classes is one I teach regularly, but haven't taught for a year, an introduction to American Literature up to the Civil War. For that one, I also needed to adapt the schedule and chose a new reading or two, but not much more in that vein. The real work is in getting my head back into that era. I'm partly there because I just finished teaching Shakespeare and the transition from late 16th and early 17th century London/England to the same time in America, while not seamless, is easy enough to make. To get my mind in the right set I'm reading The New England Mind: The 17th Century by Perry Miller. It's an older book, published first in 1939 but a great source. I don't know how much new I'm actually learning about Puritanism, but what I do know is becoming more nuanced, at least if I can get it all to stick in my brain well enough to pass along to students.
My third class, the one I have the most work yet to do, is Advanced Composition. I need to create a website within bleckblog for students and the course materials. This is also a course I've taught a number of times, but it's probably been at least two years, maybe longer, so things are a little rusty in my brain. I have the general framework down. We start with analyzing some arguments and their structure. The first step is to summarize each, plug it into an argumentative framework, and to summarize each of them and respond to one of them. From there students create a project proposal, morph that into something of an annotated bibliography/literature review for their argument and from there move to the whole argument phase of the project. It seems to work and I let students write about pretty much anything, though I discourage some of the standards such as gun control, abortion, euthanasia, drug legalization and the like. However, these are not so cut and dried because there is an initiative heading for the ballot that will make Washington the second state to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to end one's life. Still, I hate those topics because, so far, they result in the most hackneyed essays and argument. In all my years teaching, getting nearer to 20 of them, I've had two good essays on abortion and the rest have been one party line or the other when it comes to the topics I mentioned just above. The way I limit these topics is to require students to have some first-hand experience with the issue so, I hope, they can see it in its complexities.
So, four days until class begins and I've got a ton of work to do. Ah, spring break. It conjures images of drunken parties on the beach or slopes, chicks and dudes whooping it up, but not for the likes of me. Instead it's a week to work at home, to watch the dog flip out when the mailman or UPS truck comes by, to watch the cats chase their tails (one is doing so as I type) and/or each other, maybe even sneak in a bike ride (just one so far) or two, if only it would stop snowing.