It’s the first day of my new semester, and as always I am scrambling just a bit. Two syllabi done, one almost so. And I put my daughter on the plane this morning to return for her last semester of college. While college is cyclical for me, it’s linear for her, which is tough for me to grasp after all these years. Looking over her commencement weekend schedule during the break, she commented, “There’s always been more school. It’s weird to think there won’t be.”
Of course, there may be, if she decides to pursue a graduate degree, but at the moment May is the end of school for her. For me, it will just be another hiatus, another brief break before the next thing.
But the next thing right now is the revision to my first-year seminar, and it’s a pretty big change. As always, I am trying something new in this class. Last year I mixed it up by having students reading different readings at the same time, and talking to each other about them. That was an interesting experiment, and because the readings were relatively familiar (there was a “Cinderella” group and a “Little Red Riding Hood” group) it worked fine—each group became expert in the variations of their particular tale and was able to discuss it with the other group, to write papers about the variations, and to explore the relationships between their particular tales and other related ones in ways that they might not have done had they had a more superficial understanding of the stories. But this year I wanted them to explore fairy tales in a different context, the context most of us think of first, I think, when we think of fairy tales: children. So my students will be working with kids in an after-school program, reading them fairy tales, talking to them about the stories, asking them their favorites, making up new ones (if they have time), getting them to draw them, and basically figuring out what it is about fairy tales that appeals to kids. This will be a four-week unit of the course, led up to by critical analysis of tales by Grimm and Perrault and close reading of classic essays on fairy tales, and followed by analysis of a variety of revisionist tales, including contemporary postmodern revisions. I think.
This has necessitated a complete overhaul of my syllabus, and I’m not done yet, even though class starts tomorrow. In fact, I won’t be done tomorrow, either, as I will have to see when the students can actually go to the school, what books they’ll be working with, and various other things, before I can really finish up. So I’ve only got the first month or so of the syllabus done. This is, I think, the first time in my teaching career that I’ll walk into class with so much left unplanned, even if it’s deliberately unplanned.
So in a way my daughter and I are in a little bit of the same place right now: walking into the unknown. There’s a safety net for both of us, of course, the familiarity of the routine combined with the uncertainty of the new. We’ll see what the semester holds for us both.
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