Monday, September 1, 2008

Parking Tickets & All That Jazz: The First Week of Classes

"I cannot but wish I were better qualified." --John Adams to Abigail Adams after hearing that he was elected President

Teaching is like jazz: if you can't improvise, you're in the wrong line of work. I've just completed my first week of classes of my 7th semester of teaching (if you include my TA work). And no matter how much I prepare, no matter how much experience I have, classes always have a way of ambushing and tying me down with dozens of unaccounted for logistical issues.

For example, on the first day of classes I arrived on campus and cannot find a parking spot. I drove around for an hour trying to find somewhere to put my car while I discussed 6 pages of syllabi to students old enough to be able to read it for themselves. Since this was my first semester since being hired as an adjunct that I did not have an 8:00 class, I'd forgotten how hectic campus became early in the semester during mid-morning.

Impatient and a little nervous about being late, I made my own parking spot behind the Industrial Studies building. I knew I'd get a ticket b/c I saw a car parked earlier that morning in the same spot with a ticket in its windshield. So while I lifting the handle on the parking brake, I mentally subtracted $10 from my checking account...

...Between the 6 classes at my 2 colleges, this group of students promises to be my best so far. Of course, college is like NFL football: everyone's good up until week 3. So we'll see if this lasts, but based on my previous experiences, my students seem much more receptive and motivated as a whole than in previous years.

That said, Eng 1020, research and argumentative writing, still provides a tincture of confusion for me. I can never find a way to comfortably approach that class. I always stumble through it like a parent trying to walk through a toy-cluttered living room in the middle of the night. This past spring semester was better, but even then, the first 2 essays I had them write on (advertisements & film) seemed more like 1010 work. So I'm borrowing assignments from my friend Bob who seems to specialize in 1020 classes. Hopefully, by copying him, I can find a way to file away some of the rough spots.

Yet by borrowing from him, I'm running into a few slight inconveniences that I didn't really anticipate. How do I tailor his writing assignment to my day-to-day assignments? And how many trees must I personally kill in order to print and run off the essays he has his students read and write about? Though I have other classes and other small problems, my two 1020 courses at my community college are what make me occasionally question my competence as a professor. But I think as long as I stay flexible--like a saxophonist changing his riff to suit the mood of the crowd--I should be okay.

...So after my last class on Monday, I walked out to my car and the first thing I did was think about what I could do with an extra $10 in my bank account. No ticket was on the car. Perhaps this semester will be more fun than I thought.