Saturday, November 8, 2008

i taught charles chesnutt stories the week an african-american was elected president

...and I think that's really cool.

True, it would have been cool to teach Chesnutt any week of the year, any year, because I heart Charles Chesnutt. But it was especially fun to discuss his stories the day before, and the day after, Obama became president-elect.

I am shadowing Donna Campbell's ENGL 481: American Lit 1855-1915 upper division course. "Shadowing" means we come to the class and watch and learn, and teach a few days if we want (duh! do want!). There are only nine students in the class, which is sad, because it is such an awesome class and the DMC is such a good teacher.

Anyway, before the semester began, Dr. Campbell asked which days I'd be interested in teaching, and I said definitely Chesnutt day(s) because I love Chesnutt and the first time I teach literature to upper division students I'd rather it be something I know pretty well and love quite a bit. Right? Luckily she said ok—even though she also loves Chesnutt. I thought that was mighty nice of her. Then it turned out that she had a workshop thing to go to and I would get to teach both days of Chesnutt. Score!

I had everything planned out for the first day—I wanted to avoid any sort of issues with time because I had teased Toria about her inability to tell time when she taught the class she was shadowing (she wrapped her class up after precisely 50 minutes...except T/Th classes are 75 minutes long) because payback's a bitch—including meeting up with DMC 20 minutes before class started to make sure my plan was a good one. Except, um, I wasn't 20 minutes early, I was 5 minutes early...just in time to walk to class. That was dumb. But I did my 20 minute intro/ppt stuff, then 25 minutes of discussing the first story ("The Goophered Grapevine"), and then planted my segue to the second story ("Dave's Neckliss") and...crickets.

None of them got the handout for the second story.

One industrious student looked it up and read it, thank god, so we walked through a summary and talked about stuff anyway. But it was pretty funny.

On the second day, everyone who was there had read both stories (or at least faked it really well), and we had a good conversation about "The Wife of His Youth" and "The Passing of Grandison." Everyone seemed to really dig Chesnutt. No one had read him before. Some of them wrote blog posts for class about the stories. That's cool.

Earlier in the semester, I mentioned very briefly that these students had done some cool stuff with Wordle, and it's true—they did. The other two days I that were "my days" were early in the semester, in the computer lab, and it was all about working with the Dickinson and Whitman archives. Over a couple of days, some looked at editions of Leaves of Grass, or just the covers, and then a bunch of people did word clouds—for Drum Taps, the 1867 Leaves of Grass, the deathbed version of "Song of Myself", and a very interesting one for Dickinson's 1862 poems. Sometimes the simplest tools are the most helpful for students. That's what I learned pretty quickly about word clouds.

Oh wait, this was supposed to be about Chesnutt. Sorry! I just got on an excited little tangent. I'm pretty excitable. I'm also trying to avoid grading papers.

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