Summer teaching

How do you get from the Renaissance to postmodernism in three and a half weeks? You teach a summer session course!

It was my full intention, of course, to begin posting with a fury again here, and I am excited about doing so next week, when I’ll finally have the time to think once more about the eighteenth century without it merely serving as a brief and beloved stopover between the Restoration and Romanticism. From Monday through Thursday for the past three weeks, I’ve been teaching one group of 25 students from 9 am until nearly noon.

Obviously, this is insane. Students barely have time to get through the readings for each day of class, which represents a full week of coursework during the regular semester, and nevermind any chance to teach analytical methodologies. I’ve had to replace all the writing assignments with research summaries just to make completion of something possible for them.

But although I am exhausted by the daily commute, lecturing, answering frantic questions, and hunting for lunch on a campus that is mostly shut down, I really love teaching like this. I only have twenty-five students, so it’s easier to get a feel for who they are and what their needs are. Classes are long and intense, and we can have more connected conversations, as the students and I are unlikely to forget who said what last week. Best of all, they know that there is no way to slack off; the work cannot be put off until later because there is no “later.”

It seems odd, but I am far more confident about my summer students keeping up with the reading than I am about my regular-semester students, who may be under the impression that they can catch up right before the final. And the emotional involvement they create with the texts seems so much more communal to me. One summer, for an “Intro to Lit” class at Hunter College, I taught Les Liaisons dangereuses, and nearly all of my students started showing up half an hour early to pick fights with one another about the book. This summer session, when I’ve shown up five minutes early for class, half of them are already in their seats, giving one another suggestions on their written work. I have rarely seen that kind of voluntary engagement outside of a summer class, especially in CUNY colleges where the students have no opportunity to forge academic friendships in dormitories.

I look forward to sleeping in during July and August, as waking up at 5am every day takes its toll. But for the next two days, I’m happy that I’ve had the opportunity to watch 350 years of British literary history flash by between June 4 and June 27.

Is anyone else out there teaching a summer session course? Am I the only person who gets a kick out of it? It has also made me wonder about how block scheduling works for the study of literature. There are certainly drawbacks to the logistics of it, but the intensity of the classroom experience is remarkable.


3 responses to “Summer teaching

  1. Laura Rosenthal


    You have to give yourself a lot of credit for making a class like that work! It sounds very difficult. I have, though, also experienced some advantages in having a big block of time for teaching. This summer I will be teaching Restoration/18th drama twice a week, 3 hours per session. I usually teach one play per class and sometimes we seem to be able to get a little deeper into a single play when we talk about it all in one session. I think another advantage is that both the students (if they have good advising) and I are only doing this one class so our attention is not divided between several subjects.

  2. Today I asked them to write evaluations of the class and their own performance, along with a sentence about what they thought was the most important thing they learned. The two-thirds of the class who didn’t say “I learned how to organize my time wisely” said they learned how to think about literature as occurring in response to historical events and shifts in religious and political thought. That’s what I thought I was teaching, and that’s what they say they got.

    When I teach exactly the same class during the semester and then ask that question, the responses tend to be pretty random. Is it possible that the block scheduling structure forces them to keep in mind that there are objectives? Or maybe block scheduling makes me feel the need to restate those objectives more clearly? Although they all complained that they didn’t have time to absorb the literature as much as they’d like, I think they got more out of the methodologies than my regular semester students.

    Those 3-hour discussions are great, aren’t they, Laura? Breaking up a book into five different classes to talk about it makes a lot of the discussion quite absurd.

  3. Hey Carrie,

    I did a straight up Intro to Lit course at the Wall St. branch for the College of New Rochelle one summer many years ago, and it was some of the most exhausting teaching I’d ever done. We had a 4 day a week, 3-4 hrs a day setup over one summer session, and the only writing I could assign was in-class essays. But it was surprisingly effective, at least in terms of their writing. I wouldn’t try to cover anything under those circumstances, but it sounds like you succeeded at teaching them a goodsized chronological range of texts. Bravo.

    I don’t know if it’s always true, but I think the boot camp atmosphere of enforced concentration in a summer course probably benefits a lot of underprepared students, who might ordinarily wander in and out of their class lectures.

    I sometimes wonder if moving too slowly through assigned readings creates even more problems than moving too quickly. I’ve noticed similar problems with holding their attention during extended readings of novels. Short texts, read as comprehensively as possible in one session, are probably the most effective teaching texts in those situations. I don’t teach plays often enough, I suppose.