Monday, January 4, 2016

A Semester in Preview

36º ~ winter settling in to the mid-south, still much remains green and the sun is vibrant, electric heater on my toes, dusk seeping in

As promised, following my last post, I'm here to give folks a glimpse of what's ahead this semester. By all accounts, Spring 2016 is shaping up to be a good degree calmer than Fall 2015 (knock wood).

To begin, I have no readings scheduled for the spring semester, and I'm okay with that. My only travel looks to be attending AWP in LA at the end of March - early April. While I will miss having the chance to read my work and meet new people at individual readings, AWP packs a big enough wallop to cover all of that.

My teaching schedule is stellar! I will be teaching one section each of Intro to Creative Writing (mixed-genre, 20 undergrads), Special Topics: Persona Poetry (combined lecture, discussion, workshop; mixed undergrads and graduate students), and Advanced Poetry Workshop (graduate students). I'll have one night class and one class each on MWF and TR. This magic is made possible due to a one-semester, one-course reduction for pre-tenure publication efforts. Submitting work really suffered in the chaos of Fall 2015, so I'm super excited to get back to focusing on getting my poems out there. I'm also looking forward to more concentrated writing time and hope to continue the buddy system with my colleague and friend, Jennie Case.

As I prepare for classes to begin on Thursday, I'm fine-tuning my approach to Intro and setting some new goals for how I'd like the class to unfold. After 10 years teaching at the first- and second-year level, I'm heading into the topics class and the workshop with equal parts excitement and uncertainty. Uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing; it's simply been a long, long time since I've built a new-to-me, on-campus course from scratch. I'm thankful for my few semesters teaching in the online MFA program at the University of Arkansas Monticello, as I'm going back to those files to help me frame how I'll approach my new courses at UCA. As always, regarding assignments and readings, I fear that my eyeballs will be bigger than my stomach (or my students' stomachs), as my mom often said of me at family gatherings where I heaped far too much food on my plate.

I'm also headed into this semester thinking, again, of the instructors who taught me the most. Frankly, aside from one professor in graduate school, the ones I think of most often taught me in my undergraduate days at the College of St. Benedict / St. John's University. These standouts all had one thing in common: a sense of shared wonder & curiosity about the subject matter at hand, rather than a need to be "right." Yes, I want to be seen as knowledgable and as a resource for my students, but I'm not in academia to proclaim resolutions and chisel theory in stone. I'm in academia because I was born a life-long learner & maker and I don't see that quest diminishing anytime soon. I also know that the best classes I experienced as a student at any level provided a balance of structure and room for student-driven inquiry. Preparing for new classes allows me to rethink my pedagogy on many levels, and that's another reason to be thankful.

Outside of the classroom, I'm feeling optimistic as well. For the moment, my TMJ seems to be on the way to healing, and I'm off muscle relaxers entirely. It's been quite jarring to realize exactly how foggy I'd become. Also, not having to spend so many hours in doctors's offices is going to be a delight (again, knock wood).

I'll continue co-editing Heron Tree, reading for One and Trio House, all of which allows me front-row interaction with my fellow contemporary poets. My biggest goal is to make Monday my blogging day. Sure, I always hope to blog more than once per week, but I'll be thrilled if I can make weekly reports a pattern.

As ever, the entrance to a new semester fills me with much the same elation as New Year's Eve, which evokes Samuel Beckett from Worstward Ho: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."


John Vanderslice said...

Great post. Especially liked your comment about not always needing to be "right." After all, isn't this all a part of getting students to think for themselves? If all we do is pontificate to them--and thus encourage them to blindly submit (or at least seem to)--how are we fostering their true education?

Sandy Longhorn said...

Exactly, John. Thanks for the comment.

Shawnte said...

I might run into you at AWP. I'm sure it will never be closer to Arizona, so this is as good a time as any for my first AWP trip.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Shawnte, I will cross my fingers that we do cross paths!