Those of you who still follow me on Twitter and Friendfeed thank you have, by now, read that I’m going to be teaching again.  Can I tell you how excited I am to be back in the classroom?  I truly enjoy teaching and interacting with students, I think I learn just as much in the process as they do.

For me, learning is a collaborative experience between the students and the instructor. If I stand in front of the students droning on and on about whatever, they learn absolutely nothing but when the students are engaged and challenged, oh my gosh, you can see the wheels turning. Seriously, nothing is better than hearing a student say “You made history come alive for me.” Yes!

I attended last night’s meeting with the intention of teaching only one class but when I arrived, I was offered a second class.  Yes, it’s short notice and, yes, that means a few long nights for me but I thrive under pressure. I can’t wait for classes to begin. I’ll be teaching on Wednesday nights from 6 to 10 (for 5 weeks) and on Sundays from 8 to Noon (for 7 and 1/2 weeks).

Of course, the librarian in me won’t be pushed into the corner.  I will give my students an intro to library services and show them how to navigate the library website because, you know, gotta pimp the library services.  Anyway, they’re going to have a research paper to write and the last thing I want is to hear one of my students say “But I didn’t know that I couldn’t use Wikipedia as my only source.”  For the record, I do not have a problem with Wikipedia, I’d just like for them to use more scholarly sources.

Oh, just realized I didn’t say what I’d be teaching, it’s American National Government! Don’t groan. The class will be oh~so~interesting. The course will be mostly discussion based with a few writing assignments and, of course, a final. The topics will be broken up into four sections:

  • Constitutional Principles
  • Rights and Liberties
  • The Political Process
  • Policy~Making Institutions

And with each section I plan to show an episode of either The Twilight Zone or All in the Family to facilitate the discussions. Bet you’re interested now, huh?

So wish me luck while I get back to cranking out this syllabus!

Sorry, Sally, but I had to co-opt your statement because, well, they like me, they really like me…

At the end of each semester, I always wonder if I’ve made a difference.  Or, more specifically, if any of my students have learned anything in my class.  I mean beyond what was needed for them to pass the test.  And, ocassionally, I get the answer that I so desperately need.  I’m going to let you in on a little secreteven after all this time, I still question myself and need reassurance

This semester was “different.”  I taught without textbooks.  I’ve found that my students don’t read the assignments anyway, but they will participate when I use a combination of teaching methods.  I relied on powerpoints, lectures, discussion, music and videos to facilitate learning.  My students reacted so positively.  Well, at first, they were a bit apprehensive.  A lot apprehensive.  Ok, they were downright nervous.  But as we got into the semester and they got into the groove, everything started to fall into place.   

During the last night of classes a few of my students (I only had seven this semester), came up to me and told me that they really enjoyed my class.  Because it’s an evening course and most of my students are nurses, I know that history is not a priority for them so I try to make the class relevant.  I was told that I succeeded in keeping them awake, motivated and interested?  What more could an instructor ask for?  Well, I’ll tell you…

One of my adult students brought her son to class the entire seven week semester.  He’s in high school and he never talked during class but after class he would hang around while I was cleaning up and talk to me about whatever we had discussed that night and he’d share resources that he’d found from the previous week’s class ~ he really worked.  Anyway, today his mom told me that he wanted me to know that he enjoyed coming to my class and that he plans to attend Misericordia University when he graduates high school in three years.  He also said that he hopes that I’m still teaching history when he’s a freshmen.  You know what?  I hope I am too…

Last Thursday was the first class of the second semester and, boy, was I a nervous wreck.  Seriously, I sat up all night refining my lesson plans and lecture notes…  I’m not sure why I’m so nervous before each class, especially since I’ve taught this same history course several times.  Maybe it’s because each section is different ~ the students, the discussions, the learning process, etc. 

The course is a seven week long evening class that meets once per week for four hours per session.  That may seem like a long time but it really goes by pretty quickly. I have seven students, most of whom are nursing students who are fulfilling a history requirement.  I began the class by introducing myself and giving the students a little bit of information about my classroom philosophy.  I don’t believe in dumping a bunch of useless facts into my students’ heads.  To me, that serves no purpose.  People already come to my class with an aversion to history so I try to make it interesting and relevant to their lives.  I provide the foundation for discussions by putting events within a historical context and then I ask them to talk about something that is happening in the world today that relates to the chapter we are studying.  I’ve found that by making the lessons relevant to the individual, they get more out of the class (sort of a “the personal is political” approach to history).  Furthermore, this method encourages my students to pay attention to current events (they have to watch the news or read a newspaper to participate in the discussions) and, hopefully, it makes them more aware of the world around them.

So, we’ll see in six weeks or so when the student evaluations are submitted whether my methods are helpful.  So far, I’ve received positive reviews from my students.  A few have come to me and told me that they enjoy the discussions and that they’ve become more confident in other classes during discussion because they feel like they have something to contribute…I really don’t think I could ask for more.

I am!  Yup, I will be back in the classroom this Thursday!  I’ll be teaching American History to 1865.  I am so incredibly nervous but I’m also incredibly happy.  This will be a 7 week course that meets one night per week for four hours.  Right now I’m in the process of finalizing the syllabus ~ I know, I know…I’m kind of working on a tight schedule, especially since class starts in two days

This semester I’m doing things a little differently.  Usually, in this type of format I do a lot of lecturing with a heavy reliance on the textbook.  Generally, these are adult students who are coming to class after a long day at work and they’re exhausted.  So I’ve been putting more of the pressure on myself instead of them.  Funny how you re-evaluate things when you have nothing else to do.  Anyway,  I get tired of listening to myself talk, so I’ve decided to take an active learning approach and make the students do more of the work. 

Instead of focusing on my lectures and the text, I want the students to look at primary sources and evaluate them.  I’ll introduce the time period and the significant events but then I’ll have the students look at documents, pictures, maps, etc to see how they relate to the event.  I’ve set up discussion questions for each primary source and provided relevant links.  I’ve also set up basic discussion questions to offset the lectures and directed the students to do their own research outside the class so they can bring “something” to the table.  These are adults (as opposed to younger students who tend to not be quite as talkative – during class) so I’m expecting a lot from them.  As further incentive, I’ve noted that class participation is a must.

Finally, I’ve assigned a final project which will consist of a formal paper and an in class presentation.  The paper has to be 5 to 7 pages long, not including the works cited page.  They also have to use a minimum of 2 primary sources.  Then, for the grand finale, they have to do an in class presentation of 10 to 15 minutes.  Now to take some of the pressure off the students, their classmates have to not only pay attention but they have to ask them questions at the end of the presentation.  No, this is not some form of educational torture.  I just want to be sure my students are learning something.  Hopefully, this will be fun, interesting and educational.

We’ll see…

A follow up to this post…

Despite how whiny I sound in the video, I am really enjoying my class.  I have some wonderful students who definitely let their personalities show through in their responses to essay questions on the tests.  I love the narratives and the interpretations of historical events.  It demonstrates that they are thinking critically about what they are learning in class. 

I will give a wrap up at the end of the semester and let you all know the results of my student evaluations…shiver….

Today was the first day of my History 103 course and the beginning of a full semester of teaching traditional students.  I have about 31 students, give or take two or three depending upon how things end up after the drop/add period.  I have to admit, I was pretty nervous when I walked in and saw all of these shiny faces looking at me expectantly.

I began the class by introducing myself and telling the students where they can find me if they need me.  It turns out, I’m just about everywhere on campus.  I am the university archivist, so I try to make the rounds on campus, taking pictures and attending different events so I can create records for our history.  I’m also a reference librarian, which means that I spend what time isn’t roaming campus, sitting at the reference desk answering questions (or fixing the printers).  Lastly, I am now an instructor. 

I wasn’t sure what to have the students call me.  That sounds like an odd thing to ponder, but I don’t have my doctorate so I can’t have them call me “Dr. Dani” but I’m not their peer either, so “Dani” is out of the question.  And “Mrs. Dani” is, well, uh, no.  I also feel the same way about “Mrs. Vaughn-Tucker” and “Mrs. Tucker.”  I ended up telling them to call me “Professor Dani.”  Ok, it sounds sort of weird but I am so not a stuffy type of person but I felt that there needed to be some delineation between me as an instructor and them as students.  Call it a respect thing. 

I also think this should be added to the discussions going on here and here about whether or not librarians should add their degrees after their names, but I won’t discuss that right now.

After settling the name thing, I informed the students that my class as well as my office are “safe zones.”  I want to encourage open and honest discussion without fear of taunting or belittling.  At points in the class, we will be discussing slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and other uncomfortable topics.  I want the students to know that nothing they say in class will be held against them.  

or The President's Daughter

Clotel: or The President

Next I handed out the syllabus.  I think it’s a fairly uncomplicated thing:  3 exams, 2 book tests and a lot of reading.  However, the readings shouldn’t be all that bad because it’s only ten to twenty pages at a time.  They have one text book, an atlas and a small book full of primary sources.  The supplemental reading for the course is Clotele: or, The President’s Daughter by William Wells Brown.  I chose this book because I think it perfectly captures the dichotomy of creating a nation based on the concept that all men are created equal while relying on slave labour to maintain a certain lifestyle.  This book is loosely based on the allegations that Thomas Jefferson had taken Sally Hemings to be his paramor and had fathered many of her children who were living as slaves at Monticello.  Another reason I chose this book is because it may well be one of the first novels published by an African American.  Hopefully, this will lead to some interesting discussions.

Finally, I asked if anyone had any questions.  Of course, no one had any…until class was over.

I look forward to an interesting semester and I hope that my students walk away with not only a basic knowledge of early American history but the realization that history impacts all that we do and the decisions that we make.  I want them to be able to think critically and not only offer an argument but be prepared to defend it.  Mostly, I want them to realize that history is not just a collection of stories from the past, but it is the foundation for their present and cornerstone for their future.