Tuesday, September 9, 2008

First days of school; or, what are you teaching?

So…I have taught two days worth of classes. I am teaching three—Experiencing Creativity: Texts and Images (a humanities core class), Introduction to American Studies, and Literature and Human Rights. There are the expected challenges with construction on the new campus. Students and teachers are having a lot of difficulties finding classes; the classrooms don’t have technology fully installed; the air conditioning does not work well (a problem in one of my rooms that overlooks a noisy courtyard); one window hanging dangerously on a single hinge (in the same room).

The first day, Sunday (weekends are Friday-Saturday here), was mostly occupied with finding the room and general introductions. Today, we got down to business, and the students impressed. Because of their backgrounds, they are extremely sophisticated for their ages when compared to students in the US. There are lots of explanations, but for starters most are well traveled, and all are (at least) bilingual. They are enthusiastic, earnest, and always willing to speak in class. They exceeded my expectations in terms of initial participation that I happily did not complete my lesson plans in any of my sections.
  • Experiencing Creativity: I expected this to be the biggest challenge since it enrolls lots of first and second year students from business, engineering, and computer science (about a dozen in all), but they were all present, active, and thoughtful today as we read Egyptian author Radwa Ashour’s “My Experience With Writing.” A nice place to start.
  • American Studies: This is my largest class with about 25 students and the group made great observations as we read a letter by Christopher Columbus following his first voyage. The students explained why they thought he decided to name the islands after women and saw his detailed surveying of the landscape as an appeal for further imperial expansion. They offered some strong analysis on something that they only read for the first time in class today. More than half of them talked in a 50-minute class.
  • Literature and Human Rights: This is a 300-level seminar that currently only has 4 students, all literature majors. Due to the class size, I have gotten to know them more quickly than the others—an Egyptian woman, an Egyptian man, a Jordanian-Palestinian woman, a Jordanian woman (a graduate student—longtime Cairene, who is teaches English at a British school). They are all near native in their English fluency; I suspect most have lived for extended periods in Anglophone countries (and/or attended English-language schools). We began a discussion of Frederick Douglass, which I have chosen as the starting point for this course. Two of them already read ahead in Douglass’s Narrative! Wow—that is a good start.

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