PREPARING JUST ONE LITERATURE CLASS

To begin with, I’m aware than I’m probably misusing the word ‘class’ as in the Anglo-American world teachers give lectures and teach seminars, whereas we, here in Spain, do a mixture of both, and, so, we teach ‘classes.’ Somebody correct me if I’m doubly wrong, please. Anyway, here’s my ranting and raving for today.

If I remember correctly, my university uses a 1:1 ratio to work out how much time we use to prepare classes. Thus, if I teach for one hour, I should use one hour for preparation. No way, it never works: I always need at least twice as much and at particular points it seems as if preparing just one session might take the whole day if not the whole week. I won’t mention the word PowerPoint (my, I just did…).

Logically, things run faster if the class in question is repeated from a previous academic year but, even so, I still need to re-read the primary source –the literary text, the film, the TV episode– I’ll be dealing with. I think most of us do. It’s easy to explain: not even the briefest short story can be fully recalled with confidence enough to teach it. (Or just call me incompetent.) One thing is commenting on it in passing (at a conference during question time, in conversation) and quite another keeping all of it in mind for classroom analysis. And, then, literary texts have this enticing but exasperating quality: they seem to change all the time and no two readings are the same. Making exhaustive notes is useless –maybe except for plot summaries– as our ideas about what we read change all the time. Beautiful, sure, but hardly practical.

So, preparing a class might take as long as reading/seeing the text requires plus taking fresh notes, plus finding bibliography. And, then, what happens is this: class discussion suddenly takes an unexpected turn, too interesting to drop, and I run short of time to say what I’ve been working on for too long. Or students, ehem, haven’t read the set text and I just manage to say 25% of what I had prepared, which means I have wasted my time. Or all goes well in class but I needed, anyway, to use many hours for preparation because I’m teaching new material I’m not yet wholly familiar with – as they say, often you teach to learn. Just think how long it takes to read a 250 page book for just one or two sessions.

And here’s the killer: no matter how detailed my notes can be before or after class, they will be probably useless the following year, as we tend to change the set books, for the sake of variety as there’s soooo much to choose from. I’m not sure whether this is plain romantic or plain dumb.

So, 1:1, sure, yes, whatever.

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