Monday, 2 March 2009

Monday morning - a shot in the arm

I'm starting to like Monday mornings quite a lot. The last few weeks have made me realise just how much I enjoy teaching, especially when its results can be as immediately clear as they are in language classes. I like to think that I'll bring what I've learned in this field back into academic teaching: although I believe that the ideal humanities seminar is characterised by a certain formlessness and natural fluency, the pedagogic realities in the UK at the moment make this more or less impossible. Literature seminars too often collapse into a situation in which the teacher is having to explain (what is inevitably their own take on) a text that the class have not been able/ bothered to read, and setting lesson objectives in such circumstances is basically pointless. It is pretty dispiriting to have a group of twenty, three of whom are bursting at the seams to discuss the narratological difficulties of The Turn of the Screw, whilst the other seventeen are making excuses for not having got beyond the first page.

Language teaching has been a different kettle of fish, and has certainly offered pointers for how university seminars might be better run. Firstly, the school I'm teaching at insists that groups should contain no more than seven. Secondly, you can't do this work without a lesson objective. Thirdly, the students all (seem to) want to work.

This isn't to say that I'd prefer to be a language teacher, only that the literature seminars in the redbrick and Brutalist universities are predicated on utterly unrealistic conditions, and that far too much of the work the tutor is asked to undertake there involves making simplifications for students who, I'm sad to say, probably shouldn't be there in the first place. Tutors, predictably, become unmotivated, and a degree of cynicism creeps into a process that should not accomodate such an attitude. We're being asked to encourage independent thought amongst a generation for whom critical thinking has been reified as a banal 'well, it can mean anything you want it to mean, can't it: that's just your opinion'. The great license of poststructuralism has been turned back upon itself, or even been ventriloquised, by the Fukuyamas and Fukuyama-lites who would have us believe that our democracy has been perfected because we can propose the deferral of any opinion.

Anyway, that is for another post. What I meant to say is that I particularly enjoy my Monday morning class, because it's exclusively male, and nearly all my other students are women. Predictably, Monday is the silliest, most unruly class, meaning that I really have to come out of myself to have any authority. This morning, I think I cracked them, although this did involve a long argument about whether or not an Audi can do 280 km per hour, and whether one should do this or not. I think I'll avoid getting into cars driven by Hungarians for this reason...apparently, it's 'normal' to rag your motor to the top of its capacity.

And we were supposed to be talking about film reviews...


Jon said...

I just had the University PGs as teachers training course - they suggested we get students to write down their thoughts on post-it notes to give them ownership of those thoughts.

I like to think of Perec laughing at students writing post-it notes about Vie: Mode d'emploi. I think he'd get a kick out of it.

Joe said...

That sounds like the usual 'helpful' teacher training universities provide. I didn't get any at UEA, as they'd helpfully scheduled the course to clash with every single lesson in my timetable.

Good idea for method teaching about Perec, though...