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I'm the Teacher, You're the Student

I'm the Teacher, You're the Student: A Semester in the University Classroom

Patrick Allitt
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    I'm the Teacher, You're the Student
    Book Description:

    What is it really like to be a college professor in an American classroom today? An award-winning teacher with over twenty years of experience answers this question by offering an enlightening and entertaining behind-the-scenes view of a typical semester in his American history course. The unique result-part diary, part sustained reflection-recreates both the unstudied realities and intensely satisfying challenges that teachers encounter in university lecture halls. From the initial selection of reading materials through the assignment of final grades to each student, Patrick Allitt reports with keen insight and humor on the rewards and frustrations of teaching students who often are unable to draw a distinction between the words "novel" and "book." Readers get to know members of the class, many of whom thrive while others struggle with assignments, plead for better grades, and weep over failures. Although Allitt finds much to admire in today's students, he laments their frequent lack of preparedness-students who arrive in his classroom without basic writing skills, unpracticed with reading assignments. With sharp wit, a critical eye, and steady sympathy for both educators and students, I'm the Teacher, You're the Student examines issues both large and small, from the ethics of student-teacher relationships to how best to evaluate class participation and grade writing assignments. It offers invaluable guidance to those concerned with the state of higher education today, to young faculty facing the classroom for the first time, and to parents whose children are heading off to college.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0040-9
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 The Introductory Course
    (pp. 1-3)

    I’m an American-history professor with a difference—I’m not American. My vision of American history is inevitably a little different from that of my native-horn colleagues. I was horn and raised in England and came to America for the first time as a twenty-one-year-old college graduate. My intense love affair with America has been going on ever since, and a little of its rosy glow has colored my version of the nation’s history. My approach is comparative; I look at the history of America through the eyes of someone shaped by British history and its legacy. Even though I have...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Getting Ready
    (pp. 4-15)

    I wrote the syllabus the other day, and tried to make sure that I included the complete list of threats and warnings (you’ll find a copy at the end of the book, page 233). It’s a list that gets longer from year to year as new technology gives bad students new opportunities for deception. In the days when I was a graduate teaching assistant, even plagiarists had to do a certain minimum of work. They had to go to the library and find a book to copy from, or go to their fraternity’s file of tried and true papers. No...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Early Class Meetings
    (pp. 16-34)

    Off we go to meet the class itself. This semester it’s a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class with a good midmorning time (10:40–11:30), when the students should all be alert, cheerful, and talkative. Class times are much disputed among faculty members. If you teach at 8:30 A.M. you’ll be lucky to get enough students to forestall cancellation of the course. Even 9:30 is no cinch, and for any pre-noon class you can see prodigious yawning and hear students discussing how they weren’t in bed before dawn and “isn’t it early?!” Not to me: I used to be just like them, but now,...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Discussion and Lecture Routine
    (pp. 35-52)

    Today for the first time the class is discussing an assigned reading. It is Black Elk Speaks. The book is an autobiographical account by an Ogalala Sioux medicine man, as told to John Neihardt in about 1930. Black Elk was born in 1863 and was about thirteen at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, in which he participated. As a nine-year-old he had an elaborate vision of his destiny, to restore his conquered nation, and as he grew, he realized that he had unusual spiritual powers. He became a healer and holy man, traveled to the east and to...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Educators’ Excursions
    (pp. 53-69)

    It’s a great life being a professor, and one of the many privileges of being one here at Emory is our summer program at Oxford, England. I have just arranged to go again this coming summer. For the past twenty years or so, Emory has rented part of University College, Oxford, for a six-week summer school in “British studies.” Just when the weather is becoming intolerable for humans here in Atlanta, late June, off we go to the U.K. where you can usually count on plenty of clouds and rain, with temperatures around seventy. There were some hottish British summers...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Technology and Technique
    (pp. 70-80)

    I am trying to follow my schedule for the course and avoid falling behind. Otherwise, I’ll have to miss out the 1970–2000 period altogether at the end of the course. But I can’t bear to omit showing my slides of nineteenth-century women—there are so many good ones. There’s the page from a late nineteenth-century medical text book showing the skeleton of an “Indian woman” who has lived “in nature,” side by side with the skeleton of an “American lady” who has been squeezed into corsets and had her entire rib cage distorted by them. Then there’s an early...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Papers and Plagiarism
    (pp. 81-95)

    On the basis of casual remarks, impromptu in-class performances, and contributions to discussion, I have been developing a sense of who’s good and who’s not so good in this class, but now comes the acid test: it’s time to assign the first paper.

    I have assigned a staggering number of papers over the past twenty years, and graded them too. It would be nice to think that all my experience was paying off, making each set of papers better than the ones before. Unfortunately, each new group of students is as obtuse as each previous group, and there’s no sign...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Treats and Tribulations
    (pp. 96-107)

    Last night I went to a reception at the “Outdoor Emory” house. I mentioned it about a week ago, when Molly Cobbs invited me to be her guest. The house itself is one of several “theme houses” on campus, in which students with common interests live. There’s also a Spanish house nearby in which Spanish language and culture enthusiasts gather—they’ve asked me to be a judge of a photography contest they’re having later this term. The Outdoor house used to be a fraternity whose members were so wicked they were finally thrown off campus. They amused themselves in the...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Radicals and Patriots
    (pp. 108-121)

    As students are coming into the classroom, I ask them whether they are making progress with their papers. Karen says she doesn’t know how to set about organizing it. I encourage her and everyone else to use chronology as an organizing principle. It’s not always the best, but it usually is because it lets readers know the sequence in which events took place, and is given to us ready-made by history itself. I rhapsodize about the power of dates. “They are a wonderful shorthand way of describing many things all at once in the smallest possible space.”

    There’s a long...

  13. CHAPTER 10 The Conscious Professor
    (pp. 122-136)

    I’ve had a wonderful time this week rereading Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska. It’s a terrific counterpart to Emma Goldman’s Living My Life, since both are books by Jewish immigrant women from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, vividly written and brimming with passion. Bread Givers is just about perfect from a professor’s point of view, if he wants to teach about the psychological stresses and material hardships of immigrants’ lives and assimilation to America. A novel based on Yezierska’s own life on the Lower East Side of New York City, it tells the story of the Smolinsky family...

  14. CHAPTER 11 Long Dry Spouts and Levels Unheard Of
    (pp. 137-144)

    Thursday is paper-grading day. It’s a slog, as always, and nearly all the papers are poorly organized and unchronological. But by forcing myself to concentrate on the first five or six, which are always the hardest, I break through to a mental condition of positive enjoyment. It’s like the hard work you have to do when you begin running, but then, eventually, you attain the euphoria of “runner’s high.” “Grader’s high” is comparable. The job has to be done; it’s self-contained, you can see the pile of papers diminishing steadily over the course of the day, you try to put...

  15. CHAPTER 12 Mid-Term Misconceptions
    (pp. 145-156)

    Last night I played the pan of a good Emory citizen by giving a speech to a group of alumni. It was entitled “America Has Its Advantages.” In it, I describe the odd fact that I find myself, a foreigner, teaching young Americans the history of their own country, and I explain why I, like generations of immigrants, have felt such pleasure and gratitude at the life America offers. It’s a speech I’ve given many times to Emory alumni here and around the country; its upbeat tone and feel-good mood make it popular with the alumni office. During questions, as...

  16. CHAPTER 13 A Dry Pleasure
    (pp. 157-170)

    Today we’re discussing Carey McWilliams’s California: The Great Exception (1949). I loved it and thought it was a fine book, but it isn’t long before I find the students sullen, mutinous, and resistant. It turns out they don’t like all the details about squabbles over access to water, aren’t interested in the skulduggery of Los Angeles as it hijacked the water supply of the Owens River Valley, and don’t care about the erratic flow of the pre-Hoover Dam Colorado River. I warned them that they must learn the geography of California in order to make sense of the book, and...

  17. CHAPTER 14 Vietnam as Ancient History
    (pp. 171-184)

    The Allius are moving house but the semester doesn’t stop to oblige us. Alter greeting the movers, haggling over the exact amount of stuff they are going to move, and for how much, I leave the capable Mrs. A. in charge and head off to campus. This morning I lecture on the Vietnam War, following my pattern, since February, of handing around a detailed outline. When I first became a teacher of American history, in Berkeley in 1979, it was quite common to have people in class who had been in the army or activists in the antiwar movement. Vietnam...

  18. CHAPTER 15 First Drafts, Draft Dodgers, and Deadlines
    (pp. 185-201)

    A former student, Scott Saposnik, comes to visit. He graduated two years ago; after we have chatted about various memories, he says something that delights me. He was a member of my summer school class on Victorian Britain at Oxford three years ago. I told the students that one of the requirements was that they do a series of drawings of Victorian objects, and research their history. They must do ten careful drawings, no more than two of which could be the same type of object. Scott says, “I was horrified by that assignment. I hadn’t done any drawing in...

  19. CHAPTER 16 From the Hitler-Stalin Pack to the Peace Treat
    (pp. 202-211)

    Regina gives her second lecture presentation to the group. About three weeks ago I gave her a choice of subjects on which to lecture—anything that was left, essentially—and she chose recent women’s history and the feminist movement. I missed her first lecture, on nuclear weapons, so I sit down with the students for the first time to see what she has to say. I can see that she’s terribly nervous. She’s not an expansive talker even one-on-one, and the pressure of circumstances, with thirty-nine students plus me, makes her shyer than usual. It has the effect of constricting...

  20. CHAPTER 17 Inflated Grades and Sentiments
    (pp. 212-224)

    It’s a great life being a professor, and one of the many little perks that come along at the end of the semester is invitations to “faculty appreciation days” at the sororities. Last week I found in my mailbox a bag of chocolate chip cookies and a little scroll. It read: “You have been selected as a favorite teacher of Alpha Delta Pi. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication while teaching us this past school year. We greatly appreciate all that you do to make our classes interesting, challenging, and enjoyable. Thanks for being such a great...

  21. CHAPTER 18 Finals and Farewells
    (pp. 225-232)

    The exam begins at 8:30 and everyone is there. I’ve fielded about twenty-five e-mails over the last two or three days, some from students trying to work out exactly what’s on the exam and some asking me to remind them about who did what at Inchon, Anzio, and so on. They get right to work on the exam after I’ve given them a brief reminder about the honor code and the need to apportion their time wisely. As usual, several have forgotten to bring blue books and are panicky about whether they can use loose sheets (“Yes, but make sure...

  22. Appendix Syllabus, Handouts, and Exam Answers
    (pp. 233-238)
  23. Index
    (pp. 239-244)