Thursday, December 15, 2016

Arsenic and Old Lace: A Metaphor for the new BYU-Idaho English Course

Mortimer: Aunt Abby, how can I believe you? There are twelve men down in the cellar and you admit you poisoned them.

Aunt Abby: Yes, I did. But you don't think I'd stoop to telling a fib.

I kind of feel like Aunt Abby, fourteen weeks into teaching BYU-Idaho’s newest Foundations English 1010 iteration. As the last week closes, I can’t help but to think of the bodies I’ve had Teddy bury in his locks in the basement.

Some of those bodies represent students. Some of those bodies represent what skill I thought I had as an English instructor.

But I won’t stoop to tell a fib.

Part of the reason I’ve struggled so much this semester is because I didn’t try hard enough to keep ahead on the new curriculum. But part of the reason I struggled to keep ahead on the new curriculum is that Online Learning did not take advantage of the seven-week break between summer and fall semesters to help me metaphorically stock up on non-poisoned elderberry wine.

The bulk of that seven-week lull was filled with teaching us the new learning environment – Ilearn 3. And that was valuable time, well spent, getting to know how to navigate our new environment. But if I’m allowed to continue the Arsenic and Old Lace metaphor, not having time as well to go over the new curriculum before we had to present it in class left me, well, overcome by events.

And just like ol’ dumb Mortimer, I should have seen it coming. I could have looked over my shoulder to see Jonathan coming with the rope, I could have listened to the warnings from Dr. Einstein to get out of the house before it was too late. But like Mortimer, I was trapped in a playlet, partly by my own doing.

At the beginning of the semester, I had a goal: Become familiar with what my students were going to be called on to do the next week as I’m helping them through the current week. It seemed like a simple goal: Setting aside a few hours a week to read articles, navigate the course, prepare instructor notes, etc. It became an unfortunate reality, however, that learning the course I was teaching slipped down the priority list as I tried to keep up with events.

And what events: Lots of reading, to begin with. On-again and off-again, random discussion boards, sometimes as a group, more often in smaller groups, where my presence had to be felt in quintuplicate. And the course fixes. Each week, more fixes for what was supposed to have been a beta-tested course. And grading. Lots more grading. And lots of student questions. And that’s just the class stuff – forget about working full-time, serving as Scoutmaster and being a husband and father.

It sounds like excuses. And I won’t stoop to a fib: Sometimes they were excuses. But sometimes after a ten-hour work day, grading, dinner, emails and other efforts, finding that time to stay ahead in the curriculum didn’t happen. Sometimes it did. Sometimes, the time came and I needed a break from life’s demands, so I took it. See? No fibbing.
But I still felt like that dumb cluck when he sees he’s bound and gagged, just like he predicted he would be. And I still had to function, trussed up like a moron.

My students, bless them, didn’t see the window cords nor the gag. Well, maybe they did at times when I was slow to respond to their queries. I have to console myself that student attrition in the new course wasn’t any worse than in the old one.

But I know I could have done them better.

So maybe this semester is the baptism of fire. When I found that insanity did more than run in my life – it galloped.

Next semester – well, it’s bound to be better, right?

It’s going to be better because I’m going to work it to be better. Having gone through the class once at least gives me a foundation, so I know what to anticipate the next time around. Having had that foundation laid before class started in the fall would have been better, but water under the bridge, you know. Or at least locks dug in the basement. The insanity of this semester won’t get the better of me next semester. Because I’m not a cab driver, I’m a coffee pot.

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