Monthly Archives: May 2009

My report card

Last night I finished grading final exams, averaged all my scores, and posted my final grades.  But I’ve still got one more grade to assign, and that’s for me.  Here’s how I’d evaluate my performance as an instructor over the past semester.

  • I desperately need to be more of a tyrant.  I included the standard dire warnings in my syllabi about the possible consequences of frequent absences and late work, but I was too much of a softie to follow through with the cold, indifferent, retributive sense of justice that these things require.  Next fall, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy, or at least Mr. Not Quite as Nice as I Have Been.
  • My love-hate relationship with PowerPoint is a continual source of irritation.  Students tell me they like it.  To me, it’s a considerable pain in the hindquarters.  As a simple and effective way to include the necessary maps, illustrations, and key terms, it’s fine.  But one needs to know where to draw the line.  Slides are for things you can’t convey by speaking.  Everything else should be in my lecture outlines and in the students’ notes, not up on some screen where it’s reduced to simplistic bullet points and sentence fragments.  It makes your class meetings too inflexible, reduces spontaneous interaction with students, and tends to lead to less effective listening.  They’re so intent on copyng down the information from those blasted slides that they don’t actually hear what you’re saying.  No more outline slides next time.
  • Apparently I’m very loud.  Everybody in my family is, so I come by it honestly.  My volume was a subject of conversation when I ate lunch with a couple of friends yesterday.  One of them took a class across the hall from where I’ve been teaching World History II.  The intervening distance and two closed doors failed to keep his class from being subjected to my oratorical projections.  He gave me a taste of what it’s been like.  “TODAY I’M GOING TO TELL YOU ABOUT GANDHI,” he bellowed across the table.  Perhaps I need to make an adjustment.
  • What do you do to improve retention in your survey courses?  I’m becoming convinced that you include more of the fluff that no self-respecting historian wants cluttering up his work.  Anecdotes and human-interest stories aren’t just ways to liven things up.  They’re also handles that students can get their hands around and hang onto.
  • On a related note, I’ve been trying too hard to be comprehensive.  You can explain imperialism just as well by looking at India, Africa, and Latin America as you can by hitting all three of those along with the Pacific Islands, Central Asia, Indochina, etc.  My new motto is going to be “depth, not breadth.”
  • For a long time I’ve wanted to design a course on the American Revolution.  This semester I finally did it, and there’s a lot that I’ll do differently next time.  I need to spend more time on constitution-making in the states and on administrative issues in the Congress at an earlier point in the course, as a way of establishing a more thorough context for the push toward a stronger national government in the 1780′s.  I think my use of Middlekauff’s Glorious Cause as a core text caused me to make the class too narrative-driven.

In all honesty, I think I’d probably give myself a C+, or possibly a generous B- for this semester.  I got the job done, but I’m still far short of the history profs I had who got me interested in this stuff in the first place.

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Blogging the Wilderness Wal-Mart

I was looking at a comment to my last post and noticed that WordPress had automatically generated a link to an interesting site.  It’s a blog devoted to the Wilderness Wal-Mart controversy, with handy links and information on what’s at stake.  Check it out.

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Filed under Civil War, Historic Preservation, History on the Web, Museums and Historic Sites