The Old College Try: Welcome to the Middle of Nowhere!


It’s been some time since my last post.   For the three consistent readers out there, my apologies!-)  It’s the end of October, midterms are nearly two weeks since passed, and now I’m beginning to try and find a vision for how to best wrap up this semester for my students.  This is the equivalent of having just finished the first mile of the two-mile run on the APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test): You’ve one mile behind you, but still another mile ahead of you.  Pacing is the name of the game.

This year marks my 5th year in teaching.  In many respects, I do feel like I’ve worked a few of the kinks out that I remember from my first year or two–what to do when a lesson flops, when students get confrontational with you in front of the whole class, and how to sound smart even when you’re feeling completely blockheaded (usually just fessing up works best!-).  Of course, I also know there are many kinks I’m still trying to identify more kinks to keep ironing.

And then there is the issue of moving from one school to the next.  I’m teaching at a new college and am a full-timer–a very different place then the one I occupied as an adjunct instructor.  I’m learning about my different responsibilities and expectations most of which will begin taking effect during the spring semester such as committee work and other additional responsibilities.  But more to the point is learning about the students… what works and what doesn’t.

I’m finding many of my students have years and years of bad habits.  Not too surprising, education isn’t always a sufficient incentive for hard work–the promise of “dessert” sometimes needs to precede the pending “vegetables.”  As an educator, it means if I don’t do my homework and find some fun and interesting ways to package my lessons, many of my students won’t bother checking in–mentally at first, physically if the pattern continues.  Mind you, I’m not talking about constantly singing and dancing to entertain students, but I think young adults who aren’t naturally inclined towards academic material do need a little “support.”  Case in point–this past week.

Last Wednesday and today were probably two of my better lessons all semester… and arguably, top-performers in my time as a college teacher.  Heck!  I even think that on both occasions I can lay claim to having made grammar and writing mechanics fun–how many teachers can say that?!?  And yet, I can immediately turn right around and look at how my class Friday went when, after enjoying the success of the previous day’s teaching, I fell back on a few “old faithful” basic lesson plans… and WOW was that not only a flop but I walked into the weekend feeling absolutely drained.  I went back over the material–yeah, all stuff the previous lessons had worked them towards so they were amply prepared.  And yet, blank stares and ridiculous responses.  On paper?  Solid lesson.  One minor miscalculation though… it’s the end of October, midterms are a thing of the past, and we’re officially 110% planted in the middle of “Academic Nowhere”–the place where students’ attentions go to die.

So, I still have about a mile left in this semester to finish and I need to pace myself, pushing as needed to through this “Academic Nowhere” and into the “Promised Land”–Winter break.   Along the way though, as any runner knows, you can’t slow down until you cross the finish line.  In this case, Google and book shelves will be my best friends in finding as many new and exciting ways to help get these kids out too.

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About fhelvie

I live in CT with my wife and two sons. I am also writing my doctoral dissertation, which is focused on the relationship between American literature and comic book superheroes. I have served as a panelist at a number of conferences discussing my research in comics, medieval literature, and pedagogy. Most recently, I had the good fortune to present at the New York Comic Con. In addition to my work in comics scholarship, I'm also a full-time professor of developmental English.
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