“The Magician is a card of boundless, expansive energy … this card is all about action, action, action.” It’s been inaction on my mind lately, though–this summer-mode not-working thing is strange. I do, in fact, have a lot of things to do but I’m a little stuck. (Course planning isn’t going to plan itself, but I’d made these great calendar pages for my class and then I left them in the office, and while they were literally just sharpied boxes on sheets of paper, they’ve become my excuse to not think about my class right now. All the digital tools in the world and I like to plan my course with post-its on calendar grids.)
Here, this started as another long parenthetical but I’ll promote it to a full idea rather than an aside: my class for next year is a source of some concern! Since I’m also an administrator, I only teach the one class, and the class I’m teaching is an elective for juniors and seniors. Last year was the first year I taught the class, and the kids in last year’s class gave me some really good feedback about course pacing. The course has three major units, and they all thought the last unit of the year was by far the most interesting, but it was also very rushed. I agree on both counts, but I’m not sure how to buy more time for that last unit. Warning: history-teacher thinking-out-loud here, this might be boring. The course is History of the Silk Roads, and the three units cover three different time periods, but they also have different pedagogical objectives. The first unit is about the Roman and Han empires and their trade connections and influences. At my school, we have pretty high academic expectations in the electives, but a lot of students have trouble with the transition to the work in the elective classes, and this course isn’t an honors course, so most of my students are kids who might not be great at history class but who need to fill a graduation requirement. So the first unit of the year starts off with a very traditional kind of structure. It’s the only part of the course where we use a textbook, and the supplemental readings are all very straightforward. By the end of the unit it’s gotten a little complicated, we read a chapter from Mary Beard, we use some archaeological resources to understand smaller cultures on the edges of the empires, we look at some art, etc. But it’s a transition unit. The second part of the course is about the Mongols, and we do this almost entirely with primary sources, and the sources are really not straightforward. The material is more challenging but the content is pretty interesting so that keeps them engaged, mostly. And then the final unit of the course is modern economic development in Central and East Asia, and it’s a lot of journalism and current events rather than historical analysis. It’s more fun (the sources are easier and more narrative, the class discussions are more lively) and it comes at a point in the year when they’re in the final stages of a huge independent research project.
The point is, I can’t really cut from the earlier units of the class, because there are teaching objectives to all of the work we’re doing in the first two units. And yet the material in the third unit really does need more time and more context, so I need to find time for it somewhere.
So this is how it goes, I guess–I’m handed the keyword “action” and I can generate a to-do list in an instant. But I’m also working on relax-and-recharge; I spent part of yesterday afternoon sitting out in the sun and slowly working my way through the first two chapters of William James’s “Pragmatism” because I’ve basically read nothing but romance novels for months and months and I wanted to try shifting gears. (And then after two chapters I went back to romance novels.)
The cake, by the way, was excellent. Dec and I both felt well-celebrated.