Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Teaching a tiny class (with lots of help)

Let's just go ahead and admit that my first-year writing course this semester is a little odd, and not just because it's really small. The class started off just slightly smaller than usual, but then during the first week a bunch of students dropped, either because the syllabus scared them away or they couldn't deal with first-year writing at 8 a.m. The result is a first-year writing course comprising only four students.

Now I've taught upper-level courses with a handful of students, but that's not unusual considering our small cohort of English majors. And I've taught a first-year writing class with seven or eight students before, but never four. In any other year, the class would be cancelled and the students distributed into other sections, but this is an odd year all around (for reasons I don't need to go into here) and small sections are, in general, not being cancelled.

And then there is the matter of my teaching assistant.

She's an intern, actually: a senior English major planning to go to grad school in rhetoric and composition. In her final semester, she wanted to serve in our departmental internship that places a student in a first-year writing class to observe, learn, assist with grading, and occasionally teach. The internship was approved last semester and I was delighted to welcome my intern  to work with my class--not knowing, of course, that she would be working with only four students. So now we have four students being taught by a full professor and a teaching assistant, which promises lots of individual attention. If they don't end the semester as the finest writers on campus, they're just not trying.

I really could have used a teaching assistant last semester when I taught a class of 20 first-year writing students, but I'll take whatever I can get. She's been observing the class for two weeks now and just presented her first lesson, which went really well--she even got Silent Guy to join the discussion! I guess it's not surprising that our students have really good rapport with each other, but what happens if that falls apart? Any big emotional upset dividing these students will make the class very uncomfortable.

For now, though, my four students have perfect attendance and are a real joy to teach, and my teaching assistant serves admirably. I intend to enjoy this class thoroughly, because the unusual conditions that produced this strange situation are unlikely to arise again. Next semester I'll no doubt be scrambling to keep up with a room full of demanding freshpersons, but for today, I'll relish the fact that I have to respond to only four first-year drafts this week. Four: for an even number, it's a little odd.

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