Monday, August 22, 2005

From a Professor's Point of View

The academic year begins today. Classes do not yet begin, but the new students arrive for Orientation, and since I work with new students, I will meet them and their parents today in several scheduled events.

So, life feels different again. The day starts off deceptively like any other. Unlike the students, I don't move to campus to start a new school year, marking the transition with a dramatic change of location. I wake up in the same house, making the same small commute to campus for work that I make most days of the summer as well. The first real sign of a change for me is that I get dressed up.

I also no longer do a big back-to-school shopping trip. The students have to do this, at least to get their books for their courses. There's something fun about that pile of New Books. Probably before they left for college, their parents took them shopping for new clothes and some basic school supplies, and maybe even some nice things for their dorm rooms. I don't need to shop for supplies, because my department office provides them for me. But I usually symbolically get something new just to help mark the start of a new year. This year I got a new padfolio, because my old one (with the name of my graduate school on it) was starting to fray at the edges. This one is nicer quality, and so I hope it will last longer. I upgraded and let go of my graduate school one because I have tenure now. I need to be forward-looking.

Meanwhile, last night or today the new students make the trip and arrive all tired and confused and dazed. They'll figure out where their rooms are. They'll unload. (At least it's not very hot today.) They'll meet their roommates. It will all seem strange and unreal. Some pieces of campus will be recognizable from previous visits (if they visited) or from pictures, but it will mostly be unfamiliar and strange, and the feel of things will be not at all what they had imagined. There will be some happy surprises (lots of outlets!), and some disappointments ("I have to take my morning showers here?!"). There will be some anxious checking-each-other-out glances. ("Does what I'm wearing fit in? Should I change once I get unpacked?")

Meanwhile, for us professors, it is the calm before the storm. We look over our course syllabi, and polish them a bit. We don't quite want to print them out yet, because there might be last-minute changes we decide to make. But then if we delay too long, the copy room will be clogged, and the copy machines will probably give out at some crucial moment.

There's lots of paperwork to be done, but I hesitate before going in to campus, because it's when I go in that it will really hit me that the summer is over. The air will be abuzz. All of the other professors will have come out from hiding. The office and halls will be lively. Professors back from breaks are a sight to behold. Even though they may grumble and complain about how quickly the summer fled, you can tell that they are happy and excited, in spite of themselves. They are actually giddy and bouncing off the walls with their excitement, in ways they ineffectively try to hide.

The truth is, designing and teaching courses is an art form. There is a visceral pleasure in leafing through a crisp new syllabus. You cannot help being hopeful all over again, that this time the course will really work well! Or this new course will be tremendously exciting and inspiring! You mentally rehearse your First Day of Class speeches. You try to get your paperwork all organized and ready to go. You print out class rosters, and try at least to become familiar with the names. You (gasp!) actually find yourself impatient to get going with the teaching!

Ok, I'm psyched now. Time to head in to campus! It begins...


  1. So great to hear about the collective excitement coming from the teaching side of things! A friend of mine is working on getting a teaching degree and I'll enjoy sharing your blog with him.

    It currently saddens me a bit that there are so many signposts that summer is soon to be over. September still has a few dog days left for us, but to me, the most wonderful part of going back to school is when the air cools and those crisp mornings smell of change and exude the potential that lies ahead.

    Good luck this semester CS, and have fun!