- Talk less, listen more – My classrooms are all discussion based, with no lectures, but you know how it is…you get really excited to talk about what you thought was cool in the readings, or you want to tell them this other contextual information that will totally blow their minds, or you end up re-teaching by lecturing rather than by dialogue. Maybe these things don’t happen to some people, but they happen to me. I’m always working to zip it. This involves letting the question hang longer than I’m comfortable with, while encouraging students to speak up if the phrasing or the level of the question is unclear.
- Be fairer – For me, this means sticking to the rules I set for the classroom. Or, to put it another way, have high but fair expectations for my students and hold them to it. I don’t think I’m a hard-ass, actually, and I have a fairly generous policy for missed/late work; the problem is that I am somewhat-easily persuaded to bend those rules. The rules that I have are not arbitrary, though, and they’re not to please me. They’re so everyone is prepared and ready to participate. In classrooms that are discussion based, this matters so much, and maybe I need to do a better job of explaining why. I don’t want students to have read the day’s materials for any reason other than I want them to be prepared to talk and listen to their peers. When I start bending the rules for things that really don’t deserve rule-bending, I introduce further inequities into the classroom. That’s unfair to my students. NB: I know that some of this is that I just don’t like conflict, even with my students. Some of that’s gender/age related, and some of it’s just me. But I need to figure out my way through it.
- Be more meta – As I mentioned earlier, I think “history at the college level has to be meta,” and I think it’s really needed right now. Students come to my US I and US II classes, and to women’s history, with a set of ideas about what history is, whose history matters, and what history is for. So I’m going to listen more to the stories they’re telling me about the past in America and encourage them to think about where those stories came from, why they dominate, and how they’re being used. If they ask me why there’s so much “non-political” history in my classes, we’ll talk about what “politics” means and why a more expansive view of the term might help us understand the past (and present) better. If they want to talk about “Irish slaves,” we’ll talk about the history, but also about why that’s such a perennial response to discussions about black slavery. If they say “we study history because the past repeats itself” and “we study history to learn from it and not make the same mistakes,” we’ll talk about how we reconcile those two contradictory beliefs. If they say “history is just facts and I shouldn’t have to read primary sources,” well….we’ll talk about that too.
So, those are my resolutions for the semester. Sure, I want to keep on top of my grading (this is not that hard for me), and balance my research and teaching (sad trombone), but these three resolutions are ultimately not about me – they’re about my students, and about how I can better help them learn and grow into the fascinating people they’re becoming. I love the first day of the semester – my nails are done, their notebooks are blank, and no one’s behind on anything – but mostly I love thinking about how these strangers will, in such a short time, be people I know. They’ll be people with personalities and habits and lives that I might know something about. And we’ll be more than people in a room; we’ll be a community, with patterns and uncomfortable encounters and inside jokes. My resolutions are for them. I hope I can keep them. I’d love to know what your resolutions are too.