Tuesday, September 4, 2018
September 4, 2018: Fall 2018 Previews: American Lit II
[This week I start my 14th year at Fitchburg State. For that momentous occasion, I decided to focus in this fall preview on one thing that has evolved for each class I’m teaching, and one that’s a bit more longstanding. Leading up to a special weekend update on my next book project!]
On the perils and pleasures of returning to an old friend after some time apart.
For no particular reason other than the vagaries of departmental and university scheduling and colleagues’ schedules and the like, it’s been at least a couple years since I taught a section of the American Literature II: Civil War to the Present survey course (other than an entirely online section I taught for the first time in the Spring, on which more in tomorrow’s post as I’ll be teaching another online section of the class this Fall). Prior to this recent stretch I had generally taught at least one and usually a couple sections of American Lit II each academic year, making it one of the courses (along with its counterpart survey American Lit I) for which I’ve taught the most total sections in my 13 years at FSU. I don’t think I’ve ever quite experienced that combination in the same way that I will this Fall—returning after a significant time gap to a class with which I have numerous prior experiences—and it has me thinking about a couple distinct pedagogical possibilities that might arise in teaching this section.
On the more pessimistic side, I’m a bit worried that I’ll fall into old rhythms or patterns that won’t necessarily work for this class, group, or moment. To be clear, I believe that my student-centered teaching philosophy would make it impossible for me ever not to respond to the particular and unique classroom community in front of me, and I also don’t plan to ever become the kind of aging professor (more a stereotype than a reality in any case, although I did have a couple in my undergrad days) who pulls out yellowed lecture notes and reads from them. But I did keep my American Literature II syllabus more or less the same this time around as it’s been for the last handful of those many prior sections, and that means that I’ve moved through this structure, this group of texts and units, these overarching conversations quite a few times by now—but of course never in the Fall 2018 semester, never in this moment in time, and never with this particular community of students. So I suppose this paragraph is expressing less of a concern and more of a recognition, that it’s going to be particularly important for me with this section and course to make sure (as much as is possible at least) not to rely on what I’ve done in the past.
If I can live up to the goal, it won’t just make the class more successful for the students (although hopefully and especially that too), but also more compelling and meaningful for yours truly. For one thing, the section will offer a wonderful model for both of the topics I discussed in my presentation for this 2017 NeMLA conference roundtable: the overarching benefits of re-reading literary texts; and the specific value of re-reading the favorite novel I highlighted there, Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition. I can’t imagine a more important work to be re-reading in the fall of 2018, and of course I’m even more excited to introduce it to another group of students. While that’s a meaningful effect of returning to American Lit II that I can predict, it’s just as important to note that there will be many I can’t yet imagine, moments and connections and conversations that will take me by surprise and significantly shift my own perspective and ideas in the process. Each of my last few books has gotten its start in such classroom moments, and none of them would have been possible—or at least none would have affected me in that crucial way—if I hadn’t been open to what was unfolding there, in front of and with me. I look forward to all that will unfold this fall, and will keep you posted!
Next preview tomorrow,
PS. What do you all have going on this Fall?