I LOVE My Job!

I’m having a really great semester.

I’ve got two classes this term – a composition course that meets at 8:40 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a literature class that meets immediately after at 11:10. They’re both small groups – there are 15 in the composition class and 8 in lit. – and I’m loving every second of it.

This morning, there were only seven students in the composition class; I gather there’s some sort of rude bug going around and a lot of people are sick (I’ve been making hex signs and knocking on wood all day). We’re at the part of the semester where I introduce the idea of dispassionate observation, and I started the class by projecting this image of Samuel Bak‘s “Self Portrait” on the board at the front of the room with the words OBSERVE and WRITE written next to the picture:

self_portrait1.jpg

(Click to see a larger image and recognize that the actual painting is enormous)

The students ROCKED it. I wasn’t in the room for most of the time I gave them to do the work – I planned it that way; I wanted to give them a chance to talk amongst themselves without my influence, and I didn’t want them to ask me what it meant. When I got back, I got a lot of really interesting comments – one student said that she focused in on the shoes, and did they belong to the image behind them or did they belong to the seated figure, whose feet we can’t see because s/he’s in that sack? One student thought that the figure with his arms raised over his head was trying to communicate with the seated figure, while another student thought that the seated figure was remembering the standing one. Only one student noticed the Star of David on the chest of the standing figure, and one student commented that the seated figure had a look on his or her face that was both challenging and vacant at the same time; “it’s like he’s looking straight at you, daring you to look back, but when you do, there’s really nothing there; it’s like he’s stunned. Maybe that’s what the pen’s for,” he went on to say, “he can’t SAY what he remembers, so he has to write it down.”

It was gorgeous; this may well be my favorite lesson plan ever.

My literature class is finishing up a unit on identity and self-actualization, which we started with a run through A Doll’s House and have completed with a selection of literature centered around the Holocaust. I didn’t get through NEARLY the amount of material I wanted, but what we did get to was fruitful and exciting. Today, I snagged a coworker from downstairs and together we read Dachau, a Reading in Two Voices for the five of my eight students who made it to class. I’m very much looking forward to reading their reactions of that experience. I also gave them the story of Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower, in which the slave prisoner Wiesenthal is asked by a dying Nazi for absolution for his actions. The students’ assignment for the weekend it to comment on what Wiesenthal actually did in the face of that request and to answer the question he poses at the end of the story: what would you have done?

I ran into my boss this afternoon at the photocopier (it was only a minor collision; we’re both fine) and he told me to not love the literature class too much. The woman who usually teaches the course is out this semester recovering from shoulder surgery, and it’s likely that there won’t be many sections left for anyone else to take when she gets back. I’m a little upset by this; I feel most at home in this course, doing this work, and I’m not sure how I feel about any one professor calling dibs on an entire run of classes. Of course, there’s nothing I can do about it, really, except teach a kick-ass class and hope that word gets out that I’m really great for this course.

Regardless of what the future may or may not hold, I’m loving the present. Next up, the question of nature vs. nurture, what makes us human, responsibility and the power of nature, all wrapped up in one of my favorite books ever; Frankenstein!

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10 Comments

Filed under I love my boss, Learning, Literature, self-analysis, success!, Teaching, the good ones

10 responses to “I LOVE My Job!

  1. WL

    Kind of sad that no one recognized the figure with his hands raised as the Warsaw ghetto boy:

    http://www.historiography-project.com/jhrchives/v14/v14n2p-6_Weber.html

    http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/boy.html

    Note, btw, that the actual boy was *not* wearing a yellow star.

  2. No, WL, I had to point that out to them. I was impressed, really, that one of them made the connection to the Holocaust in the first place – I’m finding that my students’ grasp of history is tenuous at best…

  3. What a wonderful assignment! I love how you left your students alone, and had them find out themselves what to do.

    Are you also going to read Elie Wiesel’s ‘night’?

  4. I’m sure you will get some rad reviews from your students and may persuade the powers that be to offer two sections….Glad you are enjoying the year!

  5. I love that piece! I have loved it since the first time you showed it to us (the Holocaust unit with the high schoolers, right?).

    I think what I find so fascinating about the piece is the fact that the artist seems to be inviting the viewer to WATCH his development. The blank pages, unused canvas and the other wooden cutouts show that the artist has been making tremendous efforts in coming to terms with his history. The figure behind him has been pieced together. Some pages are more detailed and developed than others (the face and hands) while other pieces are lacking definition (the Star of David). Is the large blank canvas going to be used for the finished product?

    As far as the seated figure, I see determination as well as a mix of repulsion, resolution, and acceptance for who he is/was/and will become. I am struck by such a mature looking face being placed on such a young looking frame.

    There’s just so much to think about with this piece….I LOVE IT!

  6. Cassie, this is EXACTLY the kind of work I want my students to do when I give them this piece (and thanks for remembering that I’ve shown it before – I LOVE my “old” readers; you guys know my history and give me a feeling of continuity!).

    Some of my students did pretty well with this, but most of them aren’t used to taking chances with their thinking. They come from the “remember, regurgitate, forget” generation of standardized test subjects, so their creativity and risk-taking faculties haven’t been exercised very much; they want me to tell them what answers I WANT – they don’t want to have to postulate or hypothesize. Going out on the limbs makes them uncomfortable.

  7. PS: This entry couldn’t have come a better time for me. IRONIC!!!

  8. Very astute of your students to notice the absense of the star.
    -The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team.

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