I have finished a batch of items to grade (well, comment on, not grade) more than 48 hours before I need to give them back, and I am looking forward to reading the final projects of which these items will form a part. Wonders will never cease. I always say that I love teaching; it’s the grading they pay me for. It’s so discouraging to get papers that suggest I’ve been talking to myself, in which students repeat the same mistakes I’ve marked and explained before, that are full of vague generalities and logical errors. Anyone who collects written assignments knows what I’m talking about (and I expect people who grade mathematics exams and similar assignments have their own collection of moans).
But! I’m teaching paleography. My grad students are doing projects focusing on manuscripts, most of which are in my own school’s Rare Books room. I did not know we had such fascinating material. I mean, I knew the material was there, but I am amazed and delighted at what members of this class have been finding out about what it is, where it came from, who wrote it, what light it throws on the documents’ historical eras, and how it got to this midwestern regional university. This is so cool that I’m doing the Grading Happy Dance in my chair (I didn’t know there was a Grading Happy Dance except for the one you do when you’re done, but I’m inspired here), and thinking about who around the university should get copies of the final papers, or at least a report on the results of this class. The Rare Books librarian is obvious, but I’m sure there should be some publicity about the findings and the importance of teaching apparently weird and obscure topics like paleography.
It makes a difference to teach a topic I truly love, and it clearly makes a difference to the students to work on “real” problems, to find out things that were not known at all (not just unknown to them) before they started. How I wish I could find a way to do this in all of my classes. It would be possible even at the undergraduate level, even in the courses I normally teach; but, with the number of students I have, it would also take enormous amounts of time and energy on my part to guide everyone through this process.
I really admire Belle, but I believe her when she calls her teaching process “exhausting and draining and exhilarating.” And I’m also with Anastasia on people needing to know some basic stuff before they “get to have thoughts or feelings.” The reason my current grads are doing such great work is that they already know stuff: often, stuff I don’t know and couldn’t have taught them. Again, if I were up for the exhausting and draining part, it would be possible to convince many of the underprepared undergraduate researchers that they need to learn the basic stuff for themselves so they can get on with the cool research part . . . but I have tried that, and it really is a huge amount of heavy lifting before you get to the exhilarating phase. Though I regret not having the energy to do this, I really can’t manage it and stay sane and healthy.
Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to have a semester like this one, where I actually am eager to collect projects and see how all the pieces fit together.