Tuesday, May 7, 2013
English 101: Part III
A few days ago I wrote about how I taught Freshman English at Kent State University in the spring of 1982. Two sections. I wrote about the route I took to join the faculty as an adjunct; I wrote, in general, about the format of the course. The goals were pretty broad, and I could use the texts I wanted to, though all teachers had to use X. J. Kennedy's shelf-bender, Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. I added The Odyssey (Robert Fitzgerald's translation) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
I still have materials from the course--the syllabus, the assignment sheets I gave the students each week, my plans, my final grades.
The first class? Canceled. Snow. But then I see I spent the remainder of the first week just discovering how they already responded to poems and stories. We read some short things, and I just listened to what they had to say--trying to figure out what sort of backgrounds they had, what sorts of things they would come up with. I also gave them a grammar/usage/mechanics pre-test--to see where they stood. (They stood on shaky ground!) We worked on g/u/m every day for a few minutes--sometimes longer. Had regular quizzes.
The second week we read Chekhov's "The Marriage Proposal." The third week--some folk tales, legends, myths. And some Updike and Raymond Chandler. On Friday--I introduced The Odyssey. We spent the next three weeks on it, 3 books or so a class session. And here's what I remember about our discussions of the epic:
That's right. Nothing. I cannot recall a single thing we did or said. That's ominous ...
In late February, we started reading Huck Finn, and I have few memories of that, too--except for this: I had some black students in the classes, and I was concerned about you-know-what. I prepared them as best I could ... and waited.
No problems. (None, anyway, that came up in class.) They loved the book--and I was surprised that not a single one of my forty-five students had read it before. We spent a few weeks with the novel (they wrote a paper comparing the journeys of Odysseus and Huck).
Next--we worked on their research papers and read some short poems every week: Wordsworth, Creeley, Hughes, Swift, Levertov, Frost, Robinson, Updike, R. Lowell, Tennyson, others.
Once their papers were done and in, we read Faulkner's "Barn Burning" (saw the film, too) and then ended the year with something Extra Lite: Oedipus Rex. Zero memories about how that went.
I look now at my final grades for the forty-five students:
A = 6
B = 23
C = 11
D = 5
F = 0
I would've had a few F's--but several dropped before the axe fell.
And my students? I don't remember any of them. Not a single one. I'm looking right now at my class lists, and no names produce pictures or memories.
I loved the time in class--but what I didn't like? I saw those students only on M-W-F that term. Kent is such a large school--and I was not on campus except for classes and office hours--so I never saw them anywhere else but in my classroom. I didn't like that. It was so different from the middle school, from WRA. After that last class (Friday, 30 April) I never saw any of them again. Not one has friended me. Not one has haunted my dreams.
But for a few months we read and wrote some words together. And laughed when the season said we should.