Pedagogy Stew: July 2013

As I write this, my husband and son are in the living room, reading Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.  We’ve spent a lot of 2013 so far reading those books, just plowing through them.  (I almost said “burning through them,” but that sounds bad.) With summer here, the pace has increased, well, apace.

In one way, I’m jealous of my son. Remember how long we had to wait between each book? But in another way, I’m sad for him. How amazing it must have been to be a child when the first one came out, and then grow up with Harry, with a book coming along every year or so, just when you thought you couldn’t possibly wait any longer.

On the third hand, wow do I love to binge through TV and book series.

Late May and June were Maisie Dobbs weeks for me this year. I read all ten of Jacqueline Winspear’s mysteries featuring the “psychologist and investigator,” quickly, not exactly in order, but saving the 10th for last.

Leaving Everything Most Loved is in some ways a summary of the previous novels, mentioning their plots and characters, and serving as something of a “final accounting” for the whole series (though it doesn’t seem to be final—I’ve scoured the interwebs, and there’s no word of this being “THE LAST Maisie Dobbs novel.” Whew).

What is a “final accounting?”   Winspear defines it as what Maisie does as she makes “the essential visits to places and people encountered,” and calls it “a task that brought work on a particular investigation to a more settled close.” It’s more nuanced than our clichéd use of “closure.” When Maisie has wrapped up each case, she prepares a report for whomever hired her and then returns to locations crucial to solving whatever mystery there was.

It’s easy enough to end a semester as a professor by turning in grades, cleaning up my office, making a to do list for the summer, and no more.

But I’ve long tried to spend some time reflecting—what went well? Not so well? Why? And what can I do differently? I keep track of how promptly (or molasses-slowly) I return student work in an Excel spreadsheet, and I give students grading feedback on Excel, so I can run reports that way, too. Looking at the data for multiple years if sometimes almost a revelation.

This time, in addition to all the reflecting I typically do, I think I will visit each classroom I taught in, and my son’s classroom, where I volunteered, and see, like Maisie Dobbs, what each room has to say to me.

It also can’t hurt to think of all my semesters as mysteries, most of them solved (a few cold cases, I have to admit, still lingering).

What about you? What season has just ended for you? What case have you just solved? How will you do your final accounting?

(This column originally appeared in Voice of the River Valley.)

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