''[P]lease do not dumb down or slow down the class for me''

I know I sound completely backward, but please do not dumb down or slow down the class for me. As time goes on, I know I will become much more proficient and I am sorry if I am off to a clumsy and bumbling start…As I said before I learn fast and once I get into the swing of things I know I will be fine…I just hope I don’t make you batty [with] questions in the meantime. — Anonymous Student”[P]lease do not dumb down or slow down the class for me”

A student who sent me a routine “Did I do this right?” e-mail followed up with this message. What a great attitude. Now, I’m not going to ramp it up and deliberately leave this student behind just because I’ve been given permission not to slow down. In fact, I’ll be watching this student even more carefully, now that I’ve seen this evidence of self-reflection and engagement.



It’s the first week of classes. All my classes have met once or twice, I’ve already got the first homework to grade, and I’ve started to notice the classroom dynamics form.



My dean asked me to pick up an additional section of basic comp, so every day I’ll see plenty of new faces that don’t look particularly thrilled to be there. I tried to pitch the course as being a vital tool to prepare them for the future, and their first writing assignment was their response to hearing the words “college writing.” So perhaps they can vent their angst usefully, and we can get focused on revision right away.



There are also a lot of new journalism majors in Media Lab (the course students take when they want to get credit for working on the student paper), and a good mix of familiar faces and new ones in “Writing for the Internet.”



Of course, “a lot” is a relative term — we’re a small school, but this year we have as many freshman English majors as there are English majors in all the other 3 years. In a minute, I’ll explain why that makes me feel a bit nervous.



I’m particularly excited about “New Media Projects,” a 400-level class that’s required for new media journalism majors, but has also attracted almost as many non-journalism majors. We’ll be creating interactive fiction, 2D games, informational Flash sites, and 3D objects for a Half-Life 2 mod. I’ve been preparing for that one all summer long, and while some of the students who are in the class are wary of the game-heavy content, others are excited about the class precisely because it does focus on games.



My wife is teaching a course for the first time since the stork first paid us a visit.



So why am I nervous? And why did this student’s e-mail message inspire me to blog it (with the author’s permission, of course)?



It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me. A few months ago, I learned that one of the senior English faculty was changing her schedule so that she will only be part of the graduate program. Another senior member is out on medical leave, and the one who’s been here a few years longer than me is enjoying his well-earned sabbatical.



That leaves, as the senior member of the English faculty… me. Since I came on board, three additional full-time faculty have been hired.



No momentous decisions are looming, and the two colleagues who are on leave are available for consulting if there’s a problem. But there are routine things that other people used to take care of, and now I’m taking a bigger chunk of the responsibility. Since things are actually going pretty smoothly, I’m enjoying the experience. (Knowing it’s only temporary really helps.)



So let me echo the words of my student: As time goes on, I know I will become much more proficient and I am sorry if I am off to a clumsy and bumbling start…As I said before I learn fast and once I get into the swing of things I know I will be fine…I just hope I don’t make you batty [with] questions in the meantime.