My class this term, it so rocks. (Actually, I have two classes, and the other one is perfectly fine - nice students, pretty responsible, going smoothly - but this one class, it rocks.) It's just a really cool combination of students, most of whom seem to do the reading most of the time, who are smart and willing to engage with this stuff that has, honestly, very little relevance to their lives. (I know I shouldn't say this, but truly, most of what I teach has very little relevance to their immediate lives. Which is, I know, why some students like it so much. It's always nice to find those students.) I don't always want to go to class (because the work, it is so hard), but I always leave class having had fun.
Well, okay, not our last meeting, which highlighted the work of a spectacularly underprepared student. But usually, this class is awesome.
I always wonder what makes a good class so good, and how much of it I have any control over whatsoever. In this case, it's a good size - between 10 and 15 works really well for me; under 10 is starting to get a little dodgy. You get a couple of people missing class, and the dynamic completely changes. I don't mind bigger classes, but they tend to fragment into cliques in ways that can be unhelpful past 15. But I've had classes this size that weren't so great. What else?
The students are almost equally distributed between sophomores and seniors.
A little over half of them are history majors or minors, and about a third of them have a major or minor in English.
About two-thirds are women.
None of these things, I think, guarantee a successful class; I've had classes full of history majors which fell flatter than Nebraska. The English connection probably helps, given the topic of this particular course (it always ends up very literary in feel - it's a cultural history kind of course), but again, I don't think that guarantees anything. And while I'd love to say that of COURSE it's successful because there are more women then men!!!, I don't remotely believe that.
Honestly, I think one of the biggest indicators of success is the fact that, as far as I know, this course doesn't fulfill any requirements (except those filled by any history course, like if you're a history major or fulfilling a humanities requirement or something). Everyone there chose to be in the class, and while they probably didn't realize what they were getting into when they started, they at least had that initial spark of interest. I know that a bad professor can kill student interest did, and a good professor can create an interest that the student never knew they had. Nonetheless, looking back over my career (if one can call it that), I have definitely had a better vibe from classes that did not fulfill requirements than from those that did.
Yeah, I realize that's a conclusion of earth-shatteringly obviousness. And it's not like we often have any control over whether we teach requirement fillers or not. But I'll take what I can get, and enjoy how well this class is going right now.
If only I could bottle it, to sprinkle over those more common, run-of-the-mill classes when inspiration is lacking on both their part and mine.