Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Catching up and falling behind (Rambling ahoy!)

Yay! For the first time in months, the crappy "computer" (an ancient Dell running Windows 95) in my "office"--a whitewashed, echoing room with two tables, three very unergonomic blue vinyl-upholstered chairs, and a student desk on a floor recently vacated by a couple of other departments--is letting me access the internet. Previously I had to drag in my laptop if I wanted to do work online during office hours.

Anyhoo, my postings have been sporadic of late, and I really, really, really need to get a new post up at BlogHer. I'm feeling very academically AWOL, to borrow Academic Coach's term from her Inside Higher Ed article. It's not so much that I want to ignore blogging as that I'm crazy busy with the dissertation. I want to have an entire draft done in a month. Eeeeek! I'm making some progress on The Chapter That STILL Refuses To Be Completed, and upon reviewing my earlier chapters, I realized two still have sections to be written. Plus one more chapter plus the conclusion. I've already missed my first of the cannot-blow-these deadlines, but it's not for lack of trying, I assure you.

Time management wouldn't be a problem if I hadn't taken on a new class this quarter, an upper-division course on the 1890s in American Studies. It has 35 students enrolled, though last class maybe 25 showed up--on the second day of class. That doesn't bode well, so I'll have to chastise them today. My problem as an instructor is that I come off as very laissez-faire and easygoing, and then bam! the students get grades back on their first assignments, and suddenly I'm a hardass in their view. So: added to my chastising today will be a warning not to misread my laid-back nature as me not caring about the class.

Quite the opposite is true: I've spent more time prepping for this class than for any course in a long, long time. It's mostly because--and I know this is silly, since I could have picked ANY decade as the focus of this course--I know very little about the 1890s when it comes down to it. Culture, yes. History, no. But it's very hard to teach students about everyday life without tossing in a bit of the ol' history. This week I've taken them on a whirlwind tour of business, labor, and industry. I knew quite a bit about corporate life, tenement sweat shops, and women's work going in, but just about nothing about industrial labor issues.

So I've been reading about mining. Ugh. There's a depressing livelihood. When President Dumbleyou says we need immigrants to do jobs that American citizens won't do, I wonder what those jobs might be. I mean, Americans MINE COAL. There can't be many jobs much worse than that, right? (Obviously I'm being a bit flippant. I've had migrant worker students who picked onions and strawberries next to their parents, and I know that's back-breaking work with very little remuneration. I imagine slaughterhouse work can't be very fun, either.)

I'm also torn about the way I'm managing this course. It's an upper-division course, something I have previously only taught during summers, during which terms classes tend to be small and intimate. But suddenly I have to convey a depth of content to as many as 40 students. Worse, we're in a class with the desks affixed to the ground, so students can't effectively work in small groups without someone wrenching her back. And I dislike lecturing; I can be an engaging lecturer, but writing my notes and finding images and music takes soooo much prep time and energy that I should be investing in my dissertation, and I'm not sure it always pays off in terms of student learning.

So I'm thinking about lecturing on Mondays for 45 minutes or so, following up with an hour of small group work (a fun activity--this past Monday it was analyzing the material culture of offices in the 1890s: chairs, desks, dictaphones, and typewriters based on photos and old advertisements) based on lecture and the reading for that day. And then on Wednesdays I'll have students do exclusively small-group work based on all the reading and lecturing done to date. Wednesday small-group work may include an activity like the one described above, but mostly will focus on a series of questions I'll hand out. That should help them prep for their midterm and final, and maybe get the gears turning for their research papers and blog entries.

OK, this has been rambling, and I suppose mostly a way for me to think through my current craziness. Once I get a bit more of the dissertation out of the way, I should be able to write some quality posts.

BONUS TRIVIA: Anyone know where the term "bureaucratic red tape" comes from? I discovered one answer to this in my research for the 1890s course this week. I found it interesting because it explained one inefficient archival method I ran across during my research at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll come back to tell you what I found. Hint: manila folders made this method of archiving papers obsolete.

I'm such a nerd.

1 comment:

effective nancy said...

Wasn't red tape used to hold documents together during filing and handling, and had to be cut for the documents to be read or used?