[This post is part of my attempted practice this semester of writing a reflection on my teaching each week. This semester, CSUDH, like all the universities in the California State University system are primarily online. I am teaching a freshman seminar (synchronous) and an upper-division interdisciplinary studies course (asynchronous), both on reading Harry Potter and digital fandom. My motivation to do these blogging reflections came out of a summer workshop on supporting first-generation college students and its requirement that we reflect regularly on our teaching practices this semester.]
Do I need a new category for angst?
I’ve had a week that’s made me realize I need to revise the syllabi for both my classes. Although I’ve taught with Slack online before, I’ve only used blogging with students in face-to-face classes. Those classes allow me to do workshops teaching the tool. Instead, my students are trying to learn to use the software via Zoom and screencast videos I’ve made. They’re getting it, but it’s taking more time. Likewise, in my upper-division class, I asked my student groups (they are divided up based on sorting them into the Hogwarts houses) to produce a video presentation for the class. In both cases, the blogging and the presentation they’ve done it, but it’s clearly been a struggle and taken them a week longer than I planned. I don’t mind the extra time or the need to now rework our syllabus — that generally happens when I teach courses for the first time. I even like it because it gives the students a chance to give me input on what they find interesting and important. But I feel bad about the past two weeks because it’s clear that rather than feeling pleasure in the process of making something together, my students have experienced high levels of anxiety and frustration.
This is not the outcome I intended, nor one I’m willing to accept. I believe the mistake was mine; that despite writing and speaking it to others, I did not allow for enough time to teach the use of the tools — screencasting and WordPress blogging — online. So to allow for that stress, I’ve dialed back the work this week, by having them focus on their reading of the books, and by making a mini-lecture video on phoenix symbolism/mythology for them to watch and respond to.
My dismay is two-fold. First, I strongly believe these courses should be focused on taking pleasure in the text and fandom. The global and national situation, coupled with my students’ experience of being forced into online classes when they prefer face-to-face is stressful enough. Many of my students have children trying to do online classes given that most schools in Los Angeles are online. A number of them have lost their jobs / had a reduction in household income or work in situations that require them to put themselves at risk through interaction with the public. In short, their lives are stressful enough without my course adding to it. I have to find a way to reduce their stress so that they can take pleasure in the texts and in the class as a community.
My second source of dismay is more personal. This summer was a difficult time for me. I had to have emergency surgery and follow-up one when my wound didn’t heal properly. In addition, as I mentioned in my previous week’s post, my mother passed away at the end of July. Getting ready for this semester was a rushed struggle. At the same time, I have a revise and resubmit for an article that my editors are waiting for. This cannot be delayed because the article, on reading the novel The Tattooed Soldier as Latinx noir, will be (hopefully) part of the Diálogo’s special edition on Latinx detective fiction. I have another article on teaching Harry Potter for an MLA collection that also needs to be finished. And, since this is my fourth year on the tenure track, I have a full review RTP package due October 1. With all this going on, I’m concerned I won’t have time to do the revision my classes need.
I don’t have an answer to these problems. What I do have is a source of inspiration that’s made a huge difference. Last week I realized that bell hooks’, powerful text, Teaching to Transgress, which I wanted to re-read this summer and didn’t have time, is available as an audiobook. So I’ve been able to listen to her powerful pedagogical theories about classroom community, love, and pleasure as a form of radical resistance. Hopefully, by next week I’ll have something better to say.