Friday, September 08, 2006

Week One, Weekend, Weakened

As the first week of the semester concludes, I have a handful of minor observations:

1) You can tell which students take which approaches to a class. Some turned in the first assignment in pencil on wide-ruled paper. Others typed the assignment, having researched the terms used and making sure they answered the question asked.

Students do make a first impression. When I hear a teacher deny this, or claim that his or her long experience as a teacher enables a magical objectivity, I know this is a matter of self-delusion. However, it isn't self-deluded to say that I want to help the students learn to make a better impression in the future. My job is to raise the awareness of the sloppy pencil workers so they don't make similar mistakes in their future careers.

2) Public speaking isn't difficult for this particular group of students.

Many of the students delivered polished introductions of classmates. At least two were what I would considered rehearsed, but not phony. This is great because it frees us to concentrate on issues of accuracy, reliability, logic, and ethics. These are much higher-level skills and those that most teachers enjoy more than mechanical issues. In writing or speaking, the thought process is admittedly more interesting than issues of grammar or nervous delivery.

3) Weekends are still needed.

It will take some time to revise my approach for the coming week. Every teacher fine-tunes his or her approach after the first week. In my case, I need to develop a few minor routines that will help the students since they seem to want more visible signs of structure. I want to force them to adapt a little to fewer rules and guidelines, but they seem to want guide rails. A weekend will be time to rethink some teaching choices.

4) Am I weakened or strengthened?

Ah, the major issue is if a university instructor, especially an undergraduate instructor, is weakened by being something other than "Professor / Dr. Expert" in terms of persona. Letting students use my name and not "Sir. / Mr." is a decisions I've made to teach code switching. However, does this also reduce their respect for the instructor? In a era of Google, MySpace, and personal Web sites, I don't think instructors can be distant. It takes little effort for a student to learn all about another student or an instructor.

I think students realize there is a power structure. I also think they also realize that I understand the power is shifting in ways that might make an older generation uncomfortable. What happens when a student finds family photos or a resume online? What happens when they know what articles you have written and your positions on issues?

Since I have a large amount of online content, hiding makes little sense. I will have to see how this is changing the dynamic of teaching.

5) Course issues I need to address:

The students didn't quite grasp persona. They still assume it means personality and nothing more. We need to explore persona a lot more. We also need to explore how persona is both an act and authentic.

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