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:
(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!