I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about my teaching this fall since sometime in June. Looking at my poor site, I realize I haven’t posted anything since January and we’re almost halfway through September. I may be taking slow blogging to a new level.
Too much has happened to try and write a post about it. I’m going to just jump in and talk about this semester.
I spent a lot of this past summer recovering from a fall I took the week before graduation. The short version is I stepped on a rock in a university parking lot, sprained my ankle and planted my face (and unfortunately front teeth) in the asphalt. I’m mostly recovered, but am still doing physical therapy and will be having laser treatments (!!!) to remover an “asphalt tattoo” from my upper lip. Worker’s comp paperwork is no joke.
But I also spent the summer thinking a lot about my classes for this fall. I’m teaching an online class on US ethnic literature, a face-to-face Saturday class on US ethnic film, both of which I’ve taught before. And, the first Harry Potter class, called “The Worlds of Harry Potter” to be offered at CSUDH.
The Harry Potter class is a new thing for me, not only because I’ve never taught it before, but because I’m teaching the material to students who, for the most part, already know and love it, in fact, may know it better than I do. They’re also students who are, in all but one case, taking a class outside their major, purely as an elective that fulfills no GE requirements. I’ve been guided in setting up the class and my thinking about it by the book A Wizard of Their Age: Critical Essays from the Harry Potter Generation, edited by Cecilia Konchar Farr. There are a lot of good works of criticism on Harry Potter out there from all kinds of perspectives, but this book is a collection of essays by undergraduates and it’s great. It also contains Dr. Farr’s syllabus for her course, something I found super helpful.
This teaching opportunity made me look at how I was going to set up the course. From the very beginning, I wanted to make it clear that the course was going to treat these texts and fandom as significant and wonderful. With the artist’s permission, I made a flier using Sophia Canning’s image of black Hermione, wanting to start the class off as a space where fantasy fiction is not confined by race or ethnicity. This use of art led to rethinking how the syllabus should look. I decided I wanted it to look different, like a page of a newspaper. The image at the top is what I ended up with, something close to what I had imagined. I created a blog and also wrote the students a digital Hogwarts letter, welcoming them to the class.
So here I had a syllabus that hopefully looked exciting. As I read it over though, I realized the boilerplate text of my course policies were anything but welcoming. In fact, they read like iTunes Terms of Service. At the same time, there was a discussion on Twitter about boilerplate language and accessibility policies.
— Aimée Morrison (@digiwonk) July 29, 2019
Aimée’s work inspired me to rethink my own, adapting part of her language. This became (in addition to my department’s required statement):
More on Accommodations – My goal is for all my classes and assignments to be accessible to every student who comes into my classroom. All of you have the right to a full experience of your university education. This includes you: parents, working students, caregivers, introverts, disabled students, injured students, shy students, grieving students, students without internet at home. We have the same goal: for you to complete this course. With this in mind, if there’s something I can do that will help you succeed, let me know. We will find a way to work it out, whatever “it” may be.
I went through my syllabus making changes, translating university language to explain the way I read it and deleting all sorts of contractual-sounding warnings. As I did it, I realized my syllabi could be read as a journey through seven years of negative classroom experiences that I was somehow trying to write out of existence. But these experiences were extreme and exceptional, not things I’d ever experienced in this department or at this university, and many of which, due to inexperience, I’d been at least partly responsible for creating. Using the philosophy that strange cases make bad law, I deleted all of that. Hopefully it made the syllabus more personal, in the right way, and readable as a document. Because who reads the terms of service? And why start a class with a bunch of worst-case scenarios?
We’re at third week, and the class, which is as student-led as I can make it, seems to be going well. I’m using self-assessment as a basis for students’ grades, understanding that their process of engaging in this work and with each other is a major part of the course.
My contribution to the many classes on Harry Potter is that this class is going to have a public face through a class blog and through my students’ use of Twitter. My hope is that with our hashtag, #hogwartsdh, we’re able to connect with some of the Harry Potter fandom out there.