The two points of relation noted above represent an intriguing symbiosis: undergraduate programs prepare young women and men for graduate school, while grad schools largely prepare people for teaching in undergraduate programs. At both stages of this process there is adjustment, modification of procedures and attitudes, as is natural enough. Yet there is reason to feel that these transitions in one's education are sharper than they need or should be. Talented undergraduates who have spent enormous amounts of time mastering ancient languages and perhaps not doing a great deal of interpretive writing enter graduate school to find that the rules have suddenly changed-- dramatically. Research, writing, and in many cases teaching become prime directives. Responsible graduate programs will be introducing students to the "big ideas" of theoretical and ideological debate under discussion throughout the humanities. A few other pressures, exams, new modern languages, history and other requirements, get tossed into the mix. The result is sometimes collapse or poor adjustment; and one has to feel that the sink or swim rule that operates in some graduate programs is just a little blinkered to human misery and the loss of potential talent to our discipline.
Conversely, students surviving graduate school become teachers. And "teacher" is the key word with respect to most situations in which a young faculty member is likely to find her- or himself. Yet actual teaching experience in grad school is usually limited to introductory Latin or an occasional service course. Often enough, a bright graduate student who has done extremely well as a Latin teacher and in her classes is asked immediately upon arrival in her new position to teach a large section of Classical mythology vel sim. with which subject she has had virtually no experience. In grad school she is trained to become a specialist in a single field. She takes seminars that frequently represent the current, sometimes rarified, projects of graduate professors. Yet when she, as most of us do, comes to teach in a smaller school or smaller department in a large school, she discovers that her specialist training is seldom called upon in the classroom.
Other points of inconcinnity rush to mind; they tend to make strong impressions on us as we struggle to master things we had no ken of in graduate school. Faced with this general situation, what can be done?
For some specific questions we asked, click here.