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.