That point in the semester

Currently I am teaching two summer courses. Both are technically new courses for me. One is the second  in a series of two composition courses required at the community college I teach at. The other is half of a section of an 8 credit developmental reading and writing course that I am teaching with a reading specialist. I have experience teaching composition, so though this is a new textbook for me and I am following the specific curriculum set by this institution, that course feels rather familiar and comfortable (in fact I’m realizing many composition and rhetoric textbooks are rather similar, so working with a new one wasn’t the challenge I feared). The developmental course is another story, however. I have virtually no pedagogical training for this type of course, and though I have taught a section of Basic writing at another institution, I honestly don’t have much experience doing this kind of instruction. At my previous institution, grammar was almost a dirty word; it was drilled into my head that teaching grammar rules and assigning grammar drills and exercises does little in promoting correct grammar in practice (a belief I generally believe to be true). However, much of the curriculum I’m working with centers around grammar instruction and helping students reach a proficiency in writing clear and correct sentences so that they can be successful in their traditional college courses and in their professional lives. Most days I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants in that course.

Yet, though one course is rather familiar and one utterly new, I’ve found myself thinking very similar thoughts about them. Neither course is a train wreck; in fact I actually feel quite good about the progress made in each. However, I am at the point in the semester when I can’t stop thinking about what I want to do differently. This is certainly helpful for planning for the fall, but I find it incredibly frustrating right now. I want to do all I can to help my students be successful, but with only two weeks remaining in the semester, I can’t exactly reinvent the wheel. I get excited when I think of different projects, different activities,and different lessons-or even different versions of existing ones-but I also get sad thinking about my current students who were or are stuck with the old versions. This is especially the case with a project I am currently doing with my developmental students. We are working on a small research report. The topic I assigned them is a career they are interested in pursuing. A friend who had previously taught the course suggested this topic and I thought it sounded perfect. Here’s something that will be relevant to their lives and ultimately helpful in planning their professional lives. However, now I am realizing that though that may be true, this topic doesn’t actually lend itself well to many of the goals I had with this project (i.e. learning how to find sources through library databases and summarizing and utilizing essays for their own purposes in their writing). Much of their research needs to be done on career exploration websites and many of those sites provide basic bullet points of information as opposed to informative or persuasive articles. I want to find a new topic that better align with my research goals. Yet, as I am already a week into the project, I must stay the course. I suppose this is just one of the frustrations of teaching and I have to learn to not focus on what will be in future reiterations of the course, but instead to think about ways to maximize the success of what I’m working with right now.

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