Since most of my teaching load consists of various levels of composition, when I do teach a literature class (at least once a quarter) it often feels like a treat, though since my lit classes are writing intensive a la Dr. Crazy’s, it’s certainly not less work.
I usually teach the American Lit Survey class, where there are at least some potential English majors/teachers and many of the students have some practice in literary analysis. But this term is quite different. No English majors, and only a few of them have taken a literature course in college–almost all with me. The rest vaguely recalled being asked to read some novels in high school—the names of which they couldn’t recall. Others read widely on their own, but they were just as unfamiliar with the terms “plot” and “setting” as the others.
Most are non-Humanities majors: nursing, biology, criminal justice and psychology top the list. A few said they had no major yet but they might be interested in teaching Kindergarden someday. One student has a B.S. but wants to do an M.A. in Education with a Language Arts focus and needs some literature classes now. At least half of the students have not taken first year composition yet (thus my presentation “reviewing” essay writing is happening tonight), and 1/3 are unfamiliar with using computers (including accessing material in Blackboard). I gave a presentation on that after the first class, at 8pm after starting my work day at 8am (perhaps not unlike THEIR days, I know).
So it’s a challenging class, not unusual at a communitycollege, but unlike most of the lit classes I’ve been teaching lately.
And perhaps that’s why this class has an odd vibe to it, one that has been keeping me up at night:
- One student wrote on the first day in response to my question Why Do We Read Literature?: “We read literature because it is a dying art.”
- Another student, a woman in her 50s, came up to me after class and told me that she has been in seclusion in her house for 5 years after her family was murdered, but her therapist convinced her to get out and try a college class. She chose mine because, you know, chatting about literature is so therapeutic and all.
- After the first class, what seemed to be a lively lecture/discussion about literature, women writers, food fiction, etc etc., and then a brief overview of all of the writing assignments during the term, 10 students dropped the course by the next morning. However, 10 more added by noon the next day. Community College students are generally under time constraints so they usually aren’t course “shoppers”–so yes, this was odd. It’s a night class, so I’m running on empty and caffeine, which basically means I’m quite hyper. This works well with many students, who see hyperness as a form of passion and as somewhat entertaining. For others, it’s probably scary.
Not everything is odd, however. There are several students I know from last quarter, ones who are comfortable with me, and who have expressed that comfort by being active participants from the start. At least 1/3 of the students are over 40, which adds immeasurably to class discussion. There are three men (out of 35) in the class, and they seem engaged. There is one late 50s woman who has a passion for romance novels (a la Nora Roberts) and wants to do her final project on her (and in this class, that works). I’m relieved that many of them seem excited by the open final project (a paper and a poster session on a woman writer or on a food-related subject–with food, of course, at the final).
So despite the insomnia (I basically rewrote my lecture for tonight last night in my head between 3-4am), this class may prove to be an exciting challenge, forcing me to grow. That’s how I’m looking at it now, at noon, after my 3rd cup of tea.