Wednesday, September 08, 2010


They’re Baaack...

The first week of classes has a charm all its own. Students are everywhere, professors are rested and ready, nobody’s behind yet, parking is a nightmare of Biblical proportions, a few professors turn up missing at the last minute, and everyone -- everyone -- complains about the bookstore.

It’s the same every year. It’s actually sort of reassuring.

I can count on hearing certain things, and have already gone through most of the list for this year:

“Books are too expensive!” Yes, they are.

“Can you believe what some students wear in public?” No, I can’t.

“How was your summer? Oh, right...” Grrrr.

“We need more faculty/tutors/labs/classrooms/time/stuff” True.

“So-and-so hasn’t retired yet?” Nope.

“I heard rumors of more state budget cuts.” Yup, and I heard the sun would rise in the East.

“You need more parking.” Yup, and the sun rose in the East.

That’s not to say that it’s entirely predictable. Each year brings a weird new personnel issue, but you never know exactly where it will strike. (Past years have included a full-timer taking another job three days before classes started, an aneurysm, a last-minute medical leave for the entire semester, and a request three days into the semester for a change to a three-day schedule.) There’s also usually a really annoying IT glitch somewhere, but the exact glitch is always different. And each year the new students look juuuust a little bit younger.

The trick is to remember that no matter how many iterations of the first day I’ve been through, it’s the very first one for a whole lot of people. They’re excited, and scared, and lost, and easily overwhelmed. For others, it’s the second time round, but after a long layoff. They’re excited, too, though they show it differently. (They’re usually the ones who show up a week early to figure out where their classrooms are. I love that.) And I remember from my faculty days that wonderful feeling on the first day of class when nobody is behind and there’s nothing to grade. At that point, anything is possible.

That feeling of new possibility gets me every time. Educators as a breed are susceptible to it; it’s why we do what we do.

Good luck, everyone. The cafeteria is that way.

You forgot:
"The bookstore ordered the wrong book for my class!" - see East, sun rising in
"Why weren't we told the policy changed?" - because you haven't read your e-mail for the last four months
For the past three years I've taken part in a faculty panel to answer questions from incoming freshmen during orientation week. Every year, it pulls me out of the going-back-to-work blues and makes me excited to start teaching again. You're right; it's one of the best parts of the job.
Out here in Southern California it's "The air conditioning isn't working! My classroom is too warm."

That's what air conditioners DO. They don't get to peak efficiency until about Thanksgiving. Then your classrom will be too cold. And, by the way, keeping the classroom door open won't work. If the air conditioner won't cool down room 423, it's not gonna cool down the whole damn planet.

Parking complaints have zero correlation to the amount of available parking.

At Oregon, there were few lots, and no nearby options, and many complaints about parking. At Montana State, there were plenty of lots (including parking lots at the basketball arenas and football stadium), plenty of nearby options, and many complaints about parking.
I remember when I started working in higher education that I would look at my students as I helped them with whatever challenges they had and think to myself that I could identify and relate to the student. Now, when I start to feel that way and then come across their actual age in our student system, I feel soooooo old. ;o)

Thanks for a great post, and yes, the start-of-the-year enthusiasm and excitement is infectious.
Good post! I agree - that first week is always wonderfully full of possibilities based on a lack of procrastination as well as not having had the chance to get behind yet.

Here, I get: "is the WHOLE school full of sorority girls?".. They kind of take over.
College teaching is like farming. You plant seeds, you cultivate, sometimes you have to weed. But each growing season is different. It's never boring.
Thanks for the great start-off to a new academic year. It sounds like you wrote it on my campus, which just reminds me that we are not as unique in our problems as we might imagine.

However, it is getting high time to do something about the price of textbooks. I try to think of their cost, relative to the tuition of the course they support. In some classes, the book is now well over 50% of the tuition, and in one case the number is over 80%!

There are now viable online or public domain options that we need to champion for our faculty, because few of them are going to do it on their own; it will be more work for no personal return. So it will be up to administrators to help make this happen.
As an adjunct, I look forward to coming back to campus to be ignored again by all the "real" professors.
"The trick is to remember that no matter how many iterations of the first day I’ve been through, it’s the very first one for a whole lot of people."

This year, we seem to have more than our fair share of total meltdown/I'mgoinghome/collegeisjusttoomuch in the first week. Now that we're into our second week, most of these students have relaxed and are into the swing of things. It's both heartbreaking and charming.

And for the students who didn't freak out, their enthusiasm is fantastic.
My community college class is PACKED this year. Unfortunately I'll never get to figure out whether those too-young looking kids are high school students, college students, or what. And why there are so many of them.

I love the questions to the instructor like "I can't get into the x-online system, can you give me my password?" or "I can't enroll in the class, it says i don't have x-requirement, can you help me with that?" or "I can't get x-online thing to work, can you help?" Like he's the IT department for the college or an admissions advisor.
Don't forget the fact that everyone teaching had forgotten how completely exhausting being under the spotlight is every day, and so they are a little crankier than they were just a few short days ago :-)

"That feeling of new possibility gets me every time. Educators as a breed are susceptible to it; it’s why we do what we do."

Anyone who knows me would not describe me as a Pollyanna, but I always tell my students that they all have a 100 average on the first day of class, and it's up to them to keep it.
Then there is the long-time professor who, during the second week of class, still seems surprised that ze needs to get out a card to open the gate to the faculty parking lot. Now where is it ... ?
Now that school's started, can you give us an update on this situation: ?
I was definately one of those students who showed up on campus early to track down exactly where all my classrooms were. I simply couldn't wait to start my university studies!
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