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Not to pat myself on the back, but I’ve become a somewhat better lecturer in the past couple of years. The improvement is mostly an outgrowth of comfort. I know the material well enough now that I can focus more on performance: projecting my voice with emotion, hitting the laugh lines, etc. At the same time, I’m able to build narrative arc in most of my lectures while maintaining analytical continuity.

This is all to the good, of course, but there is a problem: I fear that my course management may be slipping a bit. In short, as I’ve grown more confident about giving my lectures, I’ve become a bit less careful about making sure that my instructions for papers and other assignments are crystal clear; about clarifying for my readers and TAs, before they begin their grading, what I think constitutes an outstanding essay; and about making sure that classes begin precisely on time.

The thing is, I suspect that even though I’m more entertaining and maybe more edifying in some ways, my students would rather have me focus my attention on management and logistics. I don’t know this for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that I’m right. I’ll let you know after my course evaluations come in and are tabulated.

In some ways, this is just me musing as the end of the quarter draws near. But in others, I think it’s worth my remembering that teaching hinges on organization and attention to detail as well as deft presentation of information — or perhaps that these things are complementary. Probably everyone knows this already, and I’ve just embarrassed myself. (“Wait, I’ve had that piece of spinach in my teeth all day?”) But nobody ever taught me this stuff, so maybe it’s worth mentioning.

I’m having an unusually difficult time this quarter convincing the students in one of my courses that I really do want them to be quiet while I teach. As always, I began the quarter by mentioning that I have very few pet peeves, but people who chat while I’m lecturing are near the top of that short list. I mean, people who kick kittens and/or puppies are far worse than incessant talkers. But I don’t encounter kitten- and puppy-kickers all that often, at least not while I teach, so they’re not a real-world pedagogical concern of mine.

That said, for some reason the initial no-talking PSA didn’t seem to take this go round, so I decided to mention it again. Adopting my very best insouciant manner (because I wanted to make sure that everybody understood that the talkers weren’t getting under my skin), I stopped class a couple of weeks ago and said, to nobody in particular (because I didn’t want to embarrass the talkers), “Hey, look, all of this talking is very distracting for me. And if my needs don’t concern you — and really, why would my needs matter to you, I’m only the one doing the grading — perhaps you could consider that you’re probably distracting the people sitting around you as well. So, please stop.” And then I started back in on the Puritans. Which was an odd thing to do, I’ll admit, because before the interruption I had been lecturing about cotton culture in the Chesapeake. See? All of the talking distracted me!

Well, I’m afraid that didn’t work either. Which meant that yesterday I stopped lecture suddenly, looked directly at the same group of people who have been chatting the quarter away, and said, without regard for their delicate sensibilities, “Enough. I’ve asked you before, and I meant it: please stop.” One member of this gang of recidivists then tried to stare me down, but I just smiled my Gore Vidal smile and looked away. Because I’m that cool. Well, fifteen minutes later they were talking again. No, seriously, they were.

I’m almost out of ideas at this point and thought I’d see if you can help. I suppose the next step is to ask this group of louts to see me after class. But I don’t really want to spend more of my time on this sort of classroom management. In part I feel that way because, really, this isn’t middle school. But it’s also so depressing to waste time on such stupid crap*.

So, what’s worked for you? Anything short of bringing a dart gun to class? Bear in mind that your answer will be recorded for posterity and that PhD candidates apparently read this blog. Which is to say, this is another opportunity for us to consider those things that don’t typically get taught in graduate school to aspiring scholars/teachers. Also bear in mind that, yes, I know these sorts of challenges are very often a much bigger problem for women. And I know, too, that the most appropriate and effective responses to such problems differ depending on the race, gender, age, and deportment of the professor in question. Still, I’m stumped and thought I’d see if you people can help me out.

Finally, yeah, don’t even get me started on all the texting and web-surfing that’s going on this quarter. I’ve mostly decided that the best thing to do about such practices is to ignore them. Except, of course, that I announced early in the quarter my “please don’t distract your neighbors with your gadgets” policy. Whether that works or not is anybody’s guess. I’m at the front of the room, fortunately, so I can’t see what’s displayed on the students’ screens.

* No, teaching about cotton culture in the Chesapeake and the Halfway Covenant is not “stupid crap”. You talked a lot in class during college, didn’t you?

Among the many things we don’t teach our graduate students — not just here but anywhere that I can think of — is how to referee a manuscript. There are many reasons why this skill isn’t taught: methods aren’t universal, time is short, most people suck at it. There are others, too, I’m sure. That said, this is a really useful guide. Useful enough that I’m just going to paste it in its entirety below the fold.

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