I look at my syllabus, it shows the wear and tear of the semester: dates are crossed out, notes are scribbled across the tops of pages, the corners are dogeared and chewed. It looks like I feel.
Our semester ended a little over three weeks ago, and I’m just now starting to feel like I can breathe again. I don’t think my students realize that I start each semester as nervous as they do. I worry that I won’t cover all the things that I want or need to cover. I worry that I won’t be able to strike the balance between challenging them and making things too easy. I worry that they’ll lose interest and, by the end of the semester, I’ll lose them. I worry.
But it’s over now. The worry was for naught. Or, at least, that’s what my course evaluation indicates. My students thought my class was challenging and interesting. One of my students actually said the one thing they learned from me was “how to make learning fun.” Which may not seem like one of the takeaways you want from a history class but it is when the student is planning to teach in an inner city school district. He said he hopes to be able to connect with his students the way that I did with them. Another student wrote that she felt like I cared about their success not just in my class but in their lives outside of the classroom.
There were a lot of things that worked in my class. My students enjoyed the random bits of trivia that I shared with them during each lecture. They loved the sessions where we listened to music and discussed the lyrics and how they related to particular events in history. Sharing personal stories was also a big hit. I had a small class, so the opportunities for discussion were greater.
They did not like the tests. Not a surprise. But they did like that I reviewed the information and gave them the opportunity to ask questions before test day. Sometimes I even let their questions become part of the test. Some of my students complained about the readings, they preferred the lectures because it was “more alive”. Part of me thinks they just didn’t want to do the reading…
I’ll spend my break tweaking my syllabus as I do between every semester. I like to keep things fresh, not just for me but for my new group of students. After all, if I’m excited about history maybe they will be too. But I’ll still worry.