As many of you know, I received a dissertation-writing fellowship for the 2009-2010 academic year. Huzzah! This is very good news, as my guaranteed departmental funding runs out as of June. This fellowship will keep me out of the workhouse and, thank goodness, out of Party City. In return for the fellowship’s tuition waiver and stipend, I have to teach a class in the spring.
I am very excited about this.
While many graduate programs in the Humanities burden their graduate students with heavy teaching loads — usually at least one course per semester teaching comp or introductory surveys — my program only requires us to teach one class. One. During our fourth year. A class on “Global Literatures in English,” a topic that is far outside my area of interest and research.
The minimal teaching requirement is very good in some respects, because it allows students in my program to get much more work done on the dissertation. But for someone like me, who arrived in the PhD program without an MA — and therefore without MA teaching experience — this can be a real liability. During MLA interviews, I had to discuss classes I would love to teach, hypothetical classes with hypothetical students completing hypothetical writing assignments and really participating charismatically in hypothetical class discussions. These hypothetical classes, unfortunately, do not come with hypothetical course evaluations telling me how wonderful my pedagogy is. I don’t even get a hypothetical chili pepper on rateyourprof.com.
So I’m psyched to be teaching in the spring, not only because it means I can add another course to my CV but also because I love to teach, especially when I have the prospect of teaching something cool — something that does not involve one of those horrible college comp readers.
In anticipation of this teaching, I met with my dissertation chair and the English department chair this afternoon, along with the other English graduate student who was awarded the same fellowship. We brainstormed ideas for courses, but soon the conversation devolved into a strategy session on how to get undergraduates to sign up for a course that they would assume will bore them or ::gasp:: require them to read.
Take, for example, my fellow graduate student’s course of choice. He really wants to teach on the decline of the three-volume novel. All of us around the table nod excitedly, like the lit geeks we are. This is a great idea! You can start with Sir Walter Scott — here, my own enthusiasm fades a little, because I kind of despise Scott — and move to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!
“Oh no no no no,” interrupts the department chair. “This will never work. You cannot include the words three-volume anywhere in a course description.”
So we begin to brainstorm new titles for my friend’s course — titles that don’t suggest novels as thick as doorstops. We are trying, in the lingo of academia, to make this class “sexy.” We sit in silence, trying to determine what is sexy about book history. Our meeting has turned into a Victoria’s Secret commercial. What is sexy? The convoluted publishing history of the Waverley novels? Not very sexy. The establishment of copyright laws? No, not sexy. We finally decide on a course title that mentions Google. Technology is sexy! “From Gutenberg to Google,” or something like that! Sexy sexy book history!*
(I actually do love book history, and I think many undergraduates would, as well. It’s getting them in the door that is the problem.)
Not to brag, but my course is not nearly as difficult to tart up. I’m planning on teaching a children’s literature class. Children’s literature, apparently, is sexy.
Insert Lewis Carroll-is-a-pedophilejoke here.
* Disturbingly, we are discussing how to create a class that is “sexy” so that it can “make,” or achieve the minimum enrollment to remain on the books. How sexy does a class have to be to “make”? It just sounds so, so wrong.