August 14, 2004


Well, it’s getting to that time of year when I have to prepare for the new academic term. At the beginning of the summer term, after over a month of not actually being in front of a class, I was quite excited at the prospect of teaching again. I guess it’s the performer in me. I have the same feeling again, though somewhat tempered by the thought of all the things I have yet to do.

This year I’m teaching Old English again, as well as, for the first time, Chaucer — and not Effective Writing again, which is a very time-consuming course. It will be great to teach Old English again because I’ve already built the course, and I’ll be able to fine tune it. All the fun but not too much work. I’m both excited and a little nervous about teaching Chaucer for the first time. Since my main area of research is Old English, not Middle English, I don’t have the same comfort level yet in Middle English as I do in Old English, but I’m having a great time reading up on Chaucer and preparing the class. And it will certainly be a great addition to my resumé.

I’ve ordered my textbooks now, with a few changes from last year. In the past, for Old English I’ve used Mitchell & Robinson’s A Guide to Old English, as most Old English teachers do. The biggest problem with this text is that it is very difficult for those who don’t have much of a background in language and grammar to use. If the students already had somewhat of a background in, for instance, Latin, it would be no problem, but the reality is that most students today have little formal training in Modern English grammar, let alone an inflected language like Latin. So instead, this year I’ve decided to try out Peter Baker’s Introduction to Old English, which has an accompanying website. This text is more geared to students who have no prior linguistic knowledge, but unlike Bruce Mitchell’s An Invitation to Old English & Anglo-Saxon England, it has a structured approach to learning the language. To supplement the anthology of texts contained in Baker’s text, I’m also using Pope & Fulk’s Eight Old English Poems, mainly because I also like teaching The Battle of Brunanburh and Deor, which aren’t included in Introduction to Old English. As supplements, like last year I’m also using The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, as well as translations of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Beowulf, specifically Michael Swanton’s and Roy Liuzza’s translations respectively.

As for the Chaucer class, the main text is The Riverside Chaucer, really the only choice. Apparently there is a soft-cover version, but it’s only available in the UK. I would love to have used it, to protect both the students’ wallets and backs from this weighty tome. Ah well. I spent a lot of time considering what supplementary text(s) to use and finally settled on Robert P. Miller’s Chaucer: Sources and Backgrounds, which contains excerpts from parallels and sources to a variety of Chaucer’s works. I also wanted to use some kind of commentary volume, but given the expense of the two other texts, I only added a recommended text, The Cambridge Companion to Chaucer. I’d be curious to know what others think of these textbooks.

Now I have to put together the syllabus for each of my classes, so there’s still a lot of planning to do. It’s funny, I’m almost as excited as I used to be when I was a student about to start new classes. I enjoy teaching — being in front of a class is so much fun — and I love the material I’ll be teaching this year. Now if only all my other work would fall into place…

Posted by Mark at August 14, 2004 03:27 PM