In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
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.
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