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I'm the Teacher, You're the Student

A Semester in the University Classroom

By Patrick Allitt

Publication Year: 2005

What is it really like to be a college professor in an American classroom today? An award-winning teacher with over twenty years of experience answers this question by offering an enlightening and entertaining behind-the-scenes view of a typical semester in his American history course. The unique result—part diary, part sustained reflection—recreates both the unstudied realities and intensely satisfying challenges that teachers encounter in university lecture halls.

From the initial selection of reading materials through the assignment of final grades to each student, Patrick Allitt reports with keen insight and humor on the rewards and frustrations of teaching students who often are unable to draw a distinction between the words "novel" and "book." Readers get to know members of the class, many of whom thrive while others struggle with assignments, plead for better grades, and weep over failures. Although Allitt finds much to admire in today's students, he laments their frequent lack of preparedness—students who arrive in his classroom without basic writing skills, unpracticed with reading assignments.

With sharp wit, a critical eye, and steady sympathy for both educators and students, I'm the Teacher, You're the Student examines issues both large and small, from the ethics of student-teacher relationships to how best to evaluate class participation and grade writing assignments. It offers invaluable guidance to those concerned with the state of higher education today, to young faculty facing the classroom for the first time, and to parents whose children are heading off to college.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

It's a great life being a college professor, and the best part of the job is the teaching. I've been teaching history to undergraduates lor more than twenty years and have always loved it. We professors, however, are expected not only to teach but also to write. The books we write to get tenure and advance our careers are about our disciplines, not about our...

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CHAPTER 1. The Introductory Course

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pp. 1-3

I'm an American-history professor with a difference—I'm not American. My vision of American history is inevitably a little different from that of my native-born colleagues. I was horn and raised in England and came to America for the first time as a twenty-one-year-old college graduate. My intense love affair with America has been going on ever since, and a...

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CHAPTER 2. Getting Ready

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pp. 4-15

I wrote the syllabus the other day, and tried to make sure that I included the complete list of threats and warnings (you'll find a copy at the end of the book, page 233). It's a list that gets longer from year to year as new technology gives bad students new opportunities for deception. In the days when I was a graduate teaching assistant, even plagiarists had...

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CHAPTER 3. Early Class Meetings

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pp. 16-34

Off we go to meet the class itself. This semester it's a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class with a good midmorning time (I 0:40-1 1:30), when the students should all be alert, cheerful, and talkative. Class times are much disputed among faculty members. If you teach at 8:30 A.M. you'll be lucky to get enough students to forestall cancellation of the course. Even...

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CHAPTER 4. The Discussion and Lecture Routine

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pp. 35-52

Today for the first time the class is discussing an assigned reading. It is Black Elk Speaks. The book is an autobiographical account by an Ogalala Sioux medicine man, as told to John Neihardt in about 1930. Black Elk was born in 1863 and was about thirteen at the Battle oi the Little Big Horn, in which he participated. As a nine-year-old he had an elaborate...

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CHAPTER 5. Educators' Excursions

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pp. 53-69

It's a great life being a professor, and one of the many privileges of being one here at Emory is our summer program at Oxford, England. I have just arranged to go again this coming summer. For the past twenty years or so, Emory has rented part of University College, Oxford, for a six-week summer school in "British studies." Just when the weather is...

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CHAPTER 6. Technology and Technique

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pp. 70-80

I am trying to follow my schedule for the course and avoid falling behind. Otherwise, I'll have to miss out the 1970-2000 period altogether at the end of the course. But I can't bear to omit showing my slides of nineteenth-century women—there are so many good ones. There's the page from a late nineteenth-century medical text book showing the...

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CHAPTER 7. Papers and Plagiarism

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pp. 81-95

On the basis of casual remarks, impromptu in-class performances, and contributions to discussion, I have been developing a sense of who's good and who's not so good in this class, but now comes the acid test: I have assigned a staggering number of papers over the past twenty years, and graded them too. It would be nice to think that all my...

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CHAPTER 8. Treats and Tribulations

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pp. 96-107

Last night I went to a reception at the "Outdoor Emory" house. I mentioned it about a week ago, when Molly Cobbs invited me to be her guest. The house itself is one of several "theme houses" on campus, in which students with common interests live. There's also a Spanish house nearby in which Spanish language and culture enthusiasts gather—...

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CHAPTER 9. Radicals and Patriots

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pp. 108-121

As students are coming into the classroom, I ask them whether they are making progress with their papers. Karen says she doesn't know how to set about organizing it. I encourage her and everyone else to use chronology as an organizing principle. It's not always the best, but it usually is because it lets readers know the sequence in which events took place, ...

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CHAPTER 10. The Conscious Professor

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pp. 122-136

I've had a wonderful lime this week rereading Bread Givers, by AnziaYezierska. It's a terrific counterpart to Emma Goldman's Living My Life, since both are books by Jewish immigrant women from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, vividly written and brimming with passion. Bread Givers is just about perfect from a professor's point of...

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CHAPTER 11. Long Dry Spouts and Levels Unheard Of

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pp. 137-144

Thursday is paper-grading day. It's a slog, as always, and nearly all the papers are poorly organized and unchronological. But by forcing myself to concentrate on the first five or six, which are always the hardest, I break through to a mental condition ol positive enjoyment. It's like the hard work you have to do when you begin running, but then, ...

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CHAPTER 12. Mid-Term Misconceptions

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pp. 145-156

Last night I played the part of a good Emory citizen by giving a speech to a group of alumni. It was entitled "America Has Its Advantages." In it, I describe the odd fact that I find myself, a foreigner, teaching young Americans the history of their own country, and I explain why I, like generations of immigrants, have felt such pleasure and gratitude at the...

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CHAPTER 13. A Dry Pleasure

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pp. 157-170

Today we're discussing Carey McWilliams's California: The Great Exception (1949). I loved it and thought it was a fine book, but it isn't long before I find the students sullen, mutinous, and resistant, it turns out they don't like all the details about squabbles over access to water, aren't interested in the skulduggery of Los Angeles as it hijacked the water...

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CHAPTER 14. Vietnam as Ancient History

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pp. 171-184

The Allitts are moving house but the semester doesn't stop to oblige us. Alter greeting the movers, haggling over the exact amount of stuff they are going to move, and for how much, I leave the capable Mrs. A. incharge and head off to campus. This morning I lecture on the Vietnam War, following my pattern, since February, of handing around a detailed...

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CHAPTER 15. First Drafts, Draft Dodgers, and Deadlines

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pp. 185-201

A former student, Scott Saposnik, comes to visit. He graduated two years ago; after we have chatted about various memories, he says something that delights me. He was a member of my summer school class on Victorian Britain at Oxford three years ago. I told the students that one of the requirements was that they do a series of drawings of Victorian objects, ...

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CHAPTER 16. From the Hitler-Stalin Pack to the Peace Treat

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pp. 202-211

Regina gives her second lecture presentation to the group. About three weeks ago I gave her a choice oi subjects on which to lecture—anything that was left, essentially—and she chose recent women's history and the feminist movement. I missed her first lecture, on nuclear weapons, so I sit down with the students for the first time to see what she has to say. ...

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CHAPTER 17. Inflated Grades and Sentiments

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pp. 212-224

It's a great life being a professor, and one of the many little perks that come along at the end of the semester is invitations to "faculty appreciation days" at the sororities. Last week I found in my mailbox a bag of chocolate chip cookies and a little scroll. It read: "You have been selected as a favorite teacher of Alpha Delta Pi. Thank you lor all your hard...

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CHAPTER 18. Finals and Farewells

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pp. 225-232

The exam begins at 8:30 and everyone is there. I've fielded about twenty-five e-mails over the last two or three days, some from students trying to work out exactly what's on the exam and some asking me to remind them about who did what at Inchon, Anzio, and so on. They get right to work on the exam after I've given them a brief reminder about...

Appendix: Syllabus, Handouts, and Exam Answers

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pp. 233-238


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pp. 239-244

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200409
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812218879

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2005

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Study and teaching (Higher).
  • Allitt, Patrick.
  • College teachers -- United States -- Biography
  • Teacher-student relationships -- United States.
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