Newsflash: Students Underwhelmed by Lecture

Today, I gave a truly great lecture on the first half of the Civil War.  At least, I thought it was pretty great.  But judging from the students’ faces (oh,  how I wish I could have a camera catching each look of confusion!), the lecture wasn’t anything special.  Same sighs of boredom, same crossed-arms-instead-of-note-taking (what the hell is that about?  Do you know this already?  Am I boring you?  Then get the fuck out!), same packing up early (seriously: there’s nothing that pisses me off more).  Grr.

But the real conundrum is this: I really enjoyed prepping the lecture.  I made a potentially fateful decision: I put lecture prep before “my work” (reading for prelims, finishing minor field, etc.).  Usually, I try to spend my morning hours working on PhD stuff, then save class prep for the evening, when my brain is admittedly a little fuzzier and when I’m more likely to phone it in.  But not this time.  I had just read McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom and decided that I wanted to do that.  So I threw myself into the lecture, spending at least 6 hours on the damn thing.  And I thought it was cracking good: battle stories, broad historical themes, portraits of leaders, the full meal deal.

And what’s the payoff?  Glass eyes and expressionless faces.  I’m not sure what I was expecting: applause?  Students literally on the edge of their seats?  Stupid.  Of course, I now know way more about the Civil War than before I wrote the lecture, and that’s not nothing.  But it’s an important lesson, I suppose: students in a lecture course might not be the best source for gratification for a scholar’s hard work.

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