Gosh, has it really been two full weeks since my last post? Guess grading jail lasted longer than I thought. And, of course, I'm not really out yet. In fact, I just picked up an additional class. Yes, three weeks before the semester ends. A colleague of mine is unable to finish out the semester due to illness, so I have to teach one of his classes for the next three weeks. And grade all the resulting papers. On the positive side, the college is compensating me. I think I'll receive almost two hundred bucks for what will almost certainly be in the neighborhood of forty hours work. Almost minimum wage! And people say that the administration doesn't really care about the faculty...
I've been teaching for about fifteen years now, so I've become pretty proficient at finding ways to avoid grading. One of my favorites involves planning for future classes. At the planning phase, a class is all potential; it can still be perfect. Once you add actual students into the mix (and once I enter the room for the first time), that potential has largely been sapped. I always enjoy teaching, mind you, but it's not nearly as fun as planning the class.
I remember when I was in graduate school, a good friend and I used to prep for the job interviews we hoped to get when we finished our Ph.D.s by answering the "dream class" question. You know the one. If you could design a class without worrying about how it fits into a larger curriculum, what would it look like? I remember dreaming about classes devoted to medieval expressions of time or to ridiculously specific timeframes (Old English Prose: 975-1008). Teaching at a community college consigns such dreams firmly to the realm of fantasy, of course, but I still enjoy planning new courses or finding ways to significantly overhaul old ones.
Which brings me to a question I deal with almost every year. One of the classes I teach is a standard British Lit survey. I actually teach both halves of this sequence, but I spend a lot more time thinking about the first semester (Medieval through 18th Century) than the second (1800 to the present). [NOTE: someday I'll post a rant about the way this sequence is broken up. Let's see, there's approximately 1400 years of British literary history. Obviously we should spend one semester on the first 1200 and the second semester on the last 200. Seriously, WTF?] What I struggle with each time I plan this class is how much time to spend on medieval literature. On the one hand, I think that survey classes should be designed to meet the students' needs, not the instructor's. If the point of the class is to survey British literature from its earliest days to the end of the 18th century, then the texts chosen should not focus unduly on one period but should...well, survey the overall range of periods. Sure, I especially like medieval literature, but that shouldn't be the guiding principle for the course. On the other hand, I have a certain amount of expertise in medieval lit, expertise that I don't have in the other periods studied in the class. Okay, so I work at a community college, and everyone is generalist at a CC, but surely the students could benefit more from my knowledge of things medieval than from my relative ignorance concerning Restoration Drama. Right?
So how much medieval literature should be included in a Brit Lit survey class taught by a medievalist? All the mainstream anthologies divide the big period into three (Medieval, Early Modern, 18th Century), though in terms of page count the medieval period gets short shrift, probably about 20% of the total book. Chronologically, of course, the medieval period (which I'm defining as approximately 700-1500) represents about 75% of the overall time period covered by the class. In the past, I've devoted as much as 50% and as little as 30% of the course to medieval stuff. Then there's the related question of what to cover in the medieval period. I'm an Anglo-Saxonist, but even I have difficulty justifying very much beyond Beowulf and a handful of other poems ("Caedmon's Hymn," "The Wanderer," "The Wife's Lament," etc.) in a class like this. Still, I don't want to fall into the normal pattern of teaching just Beowulf and Chaucer and saying that I've covered the medieval period.
I'm putting this question out to what Richard Scott Nokes has recently called the "blog-o-web-net-sphere-thingy." Those of you who teach British Lit surveys: how much medieval literature do you cover in the class? And, if you don't mind sharing, what works do you normally include?