This morning, I sent my students the first of we-hope-not-too-many emails they’ll get from me this semester. My goal was to warn them not to buy their books until after the first day of class before they buy their books. Every class has a Hermione who already has and has already read them (it’s cool, I was her too), but I’m hoping I got most of them.
What I probably did, though, was send half of them into a panic about OMG CLASSES START IN A WEEK and the other half to Google to find me. If you are in the latter half (or both halves), hi!
Here are the top five things you should know about the professor you just Googled:
1. I believe in Google.
When I’m not teaching, I make my living as a professional writer. I used to be a lawyer, which was like being a professional writer with sporadic episodes of yelling.
I entered both career fields in the age of Google, but when I was in high school and undergrad, Google did not exist. Consequently, I’ve lived, written, researched, and worked in both worlds, and I’m here to tell you: the search-engine world is better.
It’s only better, though, if you know how to use it. If you’re like most of my students, you haven’t even scratched the surface of what Google can do. We’ll change that.
(Please tell me that you Googled “sporadic.”)
2. I believe in you.
Nothing you can do, in my class or outside it, frustrates me more than when you don’t try.
English 1050, which I’m teaching this semester, is a gen-ed class. That means every undergraduate student takes it, whether you want to or not. I’m aware that many of you are in my class only because you have to be, and that if it weren’t a requirement, you’d much rather be analyzing space rocks, building wind turbines, interviewing children, executing endless tombé-pas-de-bourée-glissade-pas-de-chat, or playing Schoenberg.
But here’s the thing. Writing is a gen ed requirement because you will never not write. You don’t not write now. You don’t have to master writing – indeed, most people go on to live fulfilling and awesome lives without mastering it – but you do need to learn to write not-badly. You need to do it so you can seek jobs, ask for promotions, land a grant for your next great research project, launch a business, fit yourself into the liner notes in the Ballet West program. You need this skill.
I don’t ask you to be a great writer, or even to become one if you don’t want to. I do ask you to try. Figure out where to fit this skill into your grand plan for your life, and go for it.
3. I believe in writing.
Yes, I just said most people never become master writers. But that doesn’t stop me from believing in the power of writing to make us all better thinkers, more forceful personalities, and all-around better people.
The university named this class “Thought and Writing.” I’ll be the first to tell you that not everyone thinks in words. I don’t; I write for a living, yet for me writing is a process of translating thought, not generating it. Yet I get how the two are related, and just how amazing that relationship can be.
Tl;dr in my class you will write. A LOT. You won’t always have to share that writing, though. It’s your space to think…and in thinking, you figure out who you want to be.
4. You will hear about my research interests…a lot. You should embrace this.
You are at a Carnegie 100 research university. This means that most of your professors and most of your GAs are here to do research. Doing academic research means getting really excited about a thing no one else is talking about. It takes over your professors’ and GA’s lives.
How obsessive do we get about our research interests? This semester, I’m taking a graduate-level English class that deals with one topic: crossdressing in medieval literature. That’s it.
At times, hearing about my research interests – especially when they have nothing to do with your interests – might feel like a giant snoozefest. But resist the urge to tune it out. Instead, think of yourself as a circle, standing in a field of other circles. Your circle contains your interests; all the other circles represent the interests of your classmates, your GAs, and your professors. The circles are constantly bumping into each other. Sometimes, they even overlap.
Take what’s in the overlap and run with it. What you find in the overlap is what learning is. And you’re in college now; the process of learning belongs to you – not your teachers, not your peers, you. Own that and you can own the world.
(My research interests, by the way, are changeling myths in fairy folklore and the production of autism narrative.)
5. I need you to hold me to Standards.
Yes, I’m grading you. You probably expect that. But I need you to grade me too.
My favorite method of teaching is to talk. About FASCINATING THINGS. OMG ALL THE FASCINATING THINGS THE THINGS ARE FASCINATING LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE THINGS.
This is, I realize, not everyone’s favorite way to learn. It’s not even my favorite way to learn!
This semester, I’m trying to improve your experience in my class by lecturing less and encouraging everyone to discuss more. Take it from someone who is officially on her 23rd year of taking classes in things: in a discussion, you learn more and you have more fun doing it.
But I’m pretty new to this discussion format. And that means I need you to help me learn. Give me feedback on how well I’m facilitating discussions, keeping ideas moving, and letting you know how the whole thing should run. If I lecture for more than fifteen minutes without stopping, let me know – gently! I, too, am learning – and I’m doing it to make this a better learning experience for you.