Friday, August 20, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again.

"I think I'm going to like it here!"

These are the words I say frequently to Joe. It's not that I'm trying to convince myself that I'm going to love Tempe -- I already do. It's simply because each day meets me with a new and delightful surprise. I keep waiting for Tempe to let me down, but it just can't.

I stepped in front of my first non-Idaho State University classroom yesterday morning, bright and early, at 7:30 AM. In my hurry to leave the house on time (relying on public transportation for the first time in my life) I forgot my cell phone. Of course, it just so happened that my classroom was locked ten minutes before class started, and the number for Classroom Support was on that phone. A quick jog across the path to the Writing Programs office in the next building solved my dilemma, and I stepped into GIOS 202 at 7:29 AM. I was met by thirty-eight eager and slightly trepidatious eyes. Since yesterday was the start of classes at ASU, for all but two of my students, my class was their first ever college course. It was exciting, but also brought the pressure to make sure that composition was something spectacular -- no easy deed at 7:30 AM after three blocks of walking in the hot, muggy AZ morning. I did my damndest, though, and we had a good time. I was pleasantly shocked by the diversity of my students' interests when it comes to matters of entertainment! (My icebreaker involves each student telling the class his/her favorite movie.) They laughed when they were supposed to, seemed comfortable contributing to the overall discussion, and seemed genuinely excited to begin engaging with our topic at hand. (We'll see how excited they are when the first paper comes due...)

Essentially, I feel like I'm back in the swing of things. Of course, "the swing of things" means homework and grading. Lots of homework and grading. After the summer TA orientation, new TAs are required to take a seminar which focuses on pedagogical theory and helps prepare them to teach two sections of 102 in the spring. (Yay...Peter Elbow.) My Shakespearean Fetishes class promises to be interesting, and the reading list for it represents easily the most hard literary "theory" I've had to digest since my first semester of my MA. (Derrida, Freud, etc.)

While being back in the academic saddle feels familiar and comfortable, this is not to say that I haven't had my anxieties. These anxieties seem to manifest primarily as odd, but tackily transparent dreams/nightmares. I was concerned that I might sleep through my first day of teaching since the class was so early and I've taken to wearing earplugs in our new airport-adjacent apartment when I sleep. Hence, I dreamed that I did in fact sleep through class, and was subjected to a public shaming in front of the department by my mentors. In the wake of beginning my first week's reading assignment for my Shakespearean Fetishes class, I dreamed that I was frantically trying to write a response to a prompt for the class, desperately trying to use all my Renaissance education to deconstruct The Jerk -- the Steve Martin classic. My attempts were consistently interrupted by Joe's desire to drive all the way back to Idaho in order to purchase meat-flavored, chocolate-covered bubblegum. Upon returning back to Arizona after one such confectionary roadtrip, I realized that my Renaissance learning would probably be more fruitfully applied to a Renaissance text. After that, all was well.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hot Stuff!

No -- the title doesn't describe me. (Although that is certainly a true and fitting description...)

I was talking about the weather here.

Holy Hot.

Compounded with the heat (105 today, 108 predicted tomorrow), is the humidity. Even though locals like to tell you "it's a dry heat," it's not. It's really not. We enjoyed a brief respite from the outside heat over the weekend, when the temps here were actually a bit cooler than back in Idaho, but the humidity brought things even again.

Joe had to work this morning at 8:00, and my orientation didn't start until 9:00, so he dropped me off in front of my building at 7:30, and I thought I would use the time to explore my new, huge campus and try to feel at home.

I'm embarrassed to say that I got lost. Twice. On a college campus. Thank goodness for my iPhone and the Maps application.

On closer inspection, the campus is even more beautiful than I'd realized. The whole main campus is beautifully manicured and maintained, but designed to highlight Arizona's natural beauty. Throughout most of the day, you can hear the insects in the trees, although I have yet to be pestered by any bugs at all on my person. Here's some of what I saw:

Below is just one of many beautiful patches of landscaping that punctuate the campus.

Above is an avenue of palm trees that leads toward the front of the campus, and one of the oldest buildings on campus, appropriately called "Old Main."

It was gratifying and interesting to explore the campus this morning before my class. Unfortunately, the campus is pretty sprawling and I ended up taking a long, confusing, circuitous route back to the building where class was being held this morning from my home base in the Language and Literature Complex (hereafter referred to as "LL"). Me being me, I "dressed the part" of the young teacher (like I always do), and wandered around campus sweltering in my tailored jacket that went oh-so-well with my skirt. It took me about ten minutes to find my way back to my classroom. My embarrassment was compounded when I walked back to the LL with two colleagues during our lunch hour and discovered that the distance between the two should only have taken me three or four minutes, and that they're actually quite close together. Oh, to be a savvy navigator.

The TA orientation is interesting in a few ways. The class is tailored to accommodate both new and more experienced TAs, so while I appreciate learning about how teaching at ASU is going to be different than my previous experiences, a lot of the information seems "old hat." (This is not to say that I am perfect, fully-formed teacher who can't benefit from the few tips and tricks I've learned thus far.) If anything, this orientation has helped me rekindle my love of teaching composition, which, I'm ashamed to say, had somewhat waned during the last year of my MA due to the rigors of my program of study. The writing program here is so rich and well-supported from inside the English department, and I'm finding the passion of my instructors for what we do infectious. ASU structures its freshmen composition sequence very differently from ISU. This, coupled with the fact that I have been assigned a new textbook and an unfamiliar assignment sequence ensures that the next few weeks are going to be packed with preparation for teaching. The instructors here are savvy, and have come to accept that pop culture is an invaluable tool for helping freshmen realize that they have an already-existing knowledge base from which they can draw to analyze the world around them and how they fit into it. The text, The Pop Culture Zone, and the assignment sequence are designed to help students tap into this knowledge. I've drawn heavily on popular culture in the past, and am excited to be part of a program that seems to embrace the idea of teaching students with what they know.

Joe and I have been sticking pretty close to home as of late. Until my regular paychecks start and my generous fellowship is disbursed in a few days, we're pretty cash-poor. We ventured out-of-doors last Saturday to explore Tempe a bit, and made some fun discoveries. We live minutes from the Circle K featured in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. We went to Whole Foods and wandered around, relishing all the food items we now have access to. Some examples, you ask? Rendered duck fat. Microgreens. Swiss chard. Not to mention a HUGE selection of beer and wine just waiting to be tried. The bonus of living outside the "Jello belt," as I've heard it called, is that we were able to partake in a free beer tasting while we were shopping at Whole Foods. They were all, like, "You wanna try these beers fer free?" And we were all, like, "Hells yeah!" It was awesome.

I concur with Joe's opinion upon leaving Whole Foods. On the account of cuisine: Arizona 2: Idaho 0.