Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Back to the Classroom

The first day in a new job is always an occasion for nervousness and some anxiety. Having relocated to complete my doctoral studies, I'm teaching in a completely new environment, not unlike taking any other job in a new state. The benefit, however, is that it reminds me that students experience the same sensation, if a bit more magnified by youth and the looming "real world" that might be only a year away.

I can't say that the first day went smoothly, nor was it particularly rough. I think the challenge is that I prefer an atmosphere for the particular course I'm teaching: oral presentation. Most of us don't care to be on stage, especially in an academic or professional setting. As a result, I want the classroom to be as relaxed as possible while still maintaining a sense of order and predictability.

The students, with one minor exception, were early to class. This is that need to know where the room is -- and to avoid losing a spot to someone crashing the course to meet a requirement. I must admit, it was far less likely to have students on time and prepared at the previous institution, so this makes a very good impression on me.

Because the students have certain expectations of what a class is like, namely a lecture and little interaction with the instructor, they seemed a bit stunned to have to immediately begin working in groups, discuss random issues with the instructor, and not listen to a long introduction to the course content.

So far, I have only assigned groups and the two easy assignments. During the next session, each student will "formally introduce" another student. They will have to use formal, professional language, but I'm not expecting most to adhere to formality. This will take some time, as they need to learn how to shift from informal to formal when speaking. That code shift is something I'm "sneaking" through by being informal yet expecting formal presentations. It will be interesting to see how they handle the language requirements.

I did introduce a conceptual rhetorical framework. I just wanted to remind them that this is an academic course with its own jargon and mandates. They will have plenty of time to learn the terms, but it never hurts to constantly expose them to the language of rhetoric.

Most interesting will be to see how they evaluate the "persona" of my first day speaking to them. For all I know, they imagine the course to be taught by an insanely relaxed goof.

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