At the head of the class

July 30, 2009

It was one of those magical nights in class last night, when I abandoned the textbook and my notes, and just TAUGHT. I could see every single student engaged in the topic at hand: writing for the internet and blogging. We laughed, we discussed, we looked at blogs and websites, and the four hours flew by.

Most fun was using my friend Diana’s website and blog ( and as an example. Explaining how she and I connected originally on yet another website,, years ago…and how that led circuitously to my visit to her place in Italy in just 6 weeks.

Her “case study” illustrated strategic use of the internet for PR/marketing.

I knew I could use Diana safely because in her earlier career, she was a writer and is still a writer, too. So no fears that they would see hack work. She’s a pro.

I love the feeling of being right on the money with what I’m teaching. But last night I loved that the students were really engaged in learning.

My students were telling me about another faculty member who regularly makes kids cry. Not just the women, either. Strong athletes. He humiliates them in class. How awful! I can’t imagine it. That it would be tolerated. But tenured faculty are bulletproof.

Another faculty member and I were talking the other day. He told me that the bell curve still applied and to keep their jobs, regular faculty had to fail people. That it was frowned upon if you didn’t.

He gave me an extensive file of materials for the course I’m teaching next month–really, it would make my life so much easier to use them. It was a kindness. He’s a great guy. Well-prepared. A real pro, actually.

He teaches the course traditionally: students read, he does power point presentations/lectures, pulls some handouts, gives quizzes and exams, and then a final.

“Do you assign them to watch some TV or go to a movie and report back on how societal roles are depicted?” I asked.

He didn’t.

Although he pulled articles about the media from papers and magazines to discuss in class, it was straight lecture, quiz and test.

I was taken aback by the whole conversation..

First, I don’t think I’ve ever given below a C in my PR Writing class. That’s because I make them write and rewrite until they get it. Because it does no good to get a D in a writing class, in my opinion. If you can’t do at least B writing you shouldn’t be in my class. So I think writing is a different animal than conceptual classes.

Now, I’ve sent a failing student off to drop the class, but only when they are so clearly clueless or came to college without any idea how to construct a sentence. And yes, we see those kids. Shocking, but true.

But if you’re in my class, you’re going to end up with an A or B. Or I’ll die trying to get you there.

Also, I’m lucky enough to know so many businesspeople in town that we work on real world clients. And I have real world examples, like Diana’s website. I’m sure that my life would be easier if I just taught from the text and assigned those exercises. But if that’s all I did, we’d all be bored.

When you’re at the front of the classs, you can clearly see when a student is not engaged. I hate seeing that and it always makes me teach harder, inspires me to dig deeper to engage them.

Maybe I do too much, I wonder.

For example, in this short summer semester, two students have missed the equivalent of two weeks, because of the flu. Probably swine flu. I encouraged them to stay home and so did the nurse at the clinic. So Monday, I’m doing a make-up class for them. And invited any student who wanted to review, as well. I’m not required to do this. But these are two pretty good students –why wouldn’t I help them catch up? They couldn’t help being sick. Now I wonder if other faculty do stuff like this. I hope so.

But–regular faculty have other responsibilities. They do research, serve on committees, advise students (some have 70 students to advise!) and more. Perhaps if I had that workload, which is huge, I wouldn’t have so much time to devote to making the classroom relevant.

Which is why I don’t want to be on tenured faculty. Why I like adjunct work.

So here I am: a month away from school starting. A zip file full of lectures, tests and exams. My life would be very easy if I used them and just taught this mass media/society course his way.

I can’t.

Because I can’t stand the thought of students being bored in my class and memorizing, not learning.

I’m going to find a way to make this course even more relevant. A little bit more fun. For us all.

Because after all, isn’t that what teaching’s about?

2 comments on “At the head of the class
  1. Diana Strinati Baur says:

    🙂 I feel honored by this. I wish I had had the time to see this the day you wrote this but I was covered by about fourteen 100% linen sheets and at the end of the tunnel there were several focaccias to bake.

    I don’t know if I am really a pro but I do give myself a high grade for Effort.

    thanks again for your kindness….

  2. Isn’t it funny, the threads that connect us are internet-related? How the world has shrunk because of it?

    I keep thinking of how we connected: I wanted to go to Rome alone, found Slow Travel forum, you were on it, I went to Rome (and will never forget posting about flooding the apt. with the washer & instantly getting responses from Italians on how to NOT do that!)…anyway, I read about your place, met you online and booked the trip we had to cancel…and then…everything changed.

    And Sept 21–we’ll pull up in front of your gorgeous place. I love the entire process.

    PS of course you’re a pro!

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