Monday, September 10, 2007

Monday Miscellany: Back to school edition

Even though I've been teaching university for almost ten years, and teaching as a professor at this particular university for three years, I always get the back to school jitters: in anticipation of this afternoon's inaugural class, I indulged in three hours of mid-night insomniac pacing around my house, before falling to a shivery and anxious sleep in the guest room at 6 am.

Don't tell anyone the first day still makes me nervous, ok?

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From the Chronicle of Higher Education [no link, sorry, subscription only], Tim Gunn opines that academics look like hell deliberately, because they don't care: the 'look' that results, he says, is supposed to indicate that the professor in question would much rather spend an extra 30 seconds reading a book, than dragging a comb through his or her hair. He generalized also that professors wear ill-fitting clothes, generally too big on top, and too small on bottom. Think giant polar fleece zipups, paired with peg leg flood pants.

I regret to say that some people watching from a bench outside the bookstore mostly confirms this assessment.

Me? I wore a seafoam green fitted mock-t with the princessing detail at sleeves and neck, paired with a black/white flecked tulip skirt, knee-high 'dressy' black boots, and a fitted black tuxedo blazer. I like to look like a grownup, at least on the first day.

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English students tend to be fashion conscious, so it was nice to sit outside and be reassured that my campus has fashion dorks aplenty, in keeping with its exalted reputation for nerd-dom and intellectual excellence (cf Tim Gunn above). I saw plenty of bad hairdos, pleated shorts, socks-in-birks, and more than enough pairs of Crocs outside of a pool deck.

I shared my bench with two students, huddled over a piece of paper and scribbling furiously against the sun's glare. They were doing math questions, grabbing the pen back and forth in a rush of problem solving. "Don't you see? It has to be zero for it to be a perfect square!!!" I could've flashed my boobs at them and they would not have noticed.

It gladdens the heart, it does.

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Chalk. I teach in a room with a thirty foot wall of chalkboards. I filled it up: with extra readings for those who might be interested, with the agenda for next day, with the guiding questions for today. With interesting quotations. Here's one, by Roman Jakobson, a Russian Formalist literary critic:

"[Literariness] is organized violence committed on everyday speech."

I have chalk ground into my hands, which transferred to the bum of my skirt, and inevitably onto my inky black suit jacket. Teaching is messy business.

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Number of students who asked me for directions today: 2
Distance, in feet, of querent number two from his sought-after location: 3
Number of students who have already prepared medical documentation for absence: 1
Age, in years, of oldest reference work I cited today: 27
Average number of years by which this book is older than my students: 8
Number of years since I last took a foundation course at the BA level: 12
Total cost, in Canadian dollars, of the textbooks for my course: $83
Average reduction in speed of travel around the campus ring road this week: -15km/h
Number of banners across Small City's main street, welcoming students: 1
Number of police officers stationed under said banner, in front of liquor store: 2

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Why are chalkboards so vastly superior to white boards? Well, chalk is plentiful and never dries out or goes missing entirely. Chalk doesn't smell bad either. Also, white text on black board seems to be far more visible than squeaky, streaky blue across glaring white.

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Twice this weekend, I marched across the street to the student house directly opposite our house. Twice I asked them to be quiet: Friday night, partyers on the balcony were shouting down to friends in the street; Saturday afternoon, I interrupted the youngish alpha male resident--in a fit of post-party housecleaning--to ask him to turn his stereo down. We could hear it in our house, across the street, with the windows closed. He immediately apologized and turned it down.

Later that day, gazing out the window while making the bed, I noticed him walk gingerly out into traffic in his bare feet, pause at the centre line with his head cocked, and then trot back into his house.

He was checking the volume level.

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Last year, I couldn't imagine things being this normal again. And now, it's that experience that seems so hazy and surreal. Huh.

21 comments:

slouching mom said...

I hate chalk. I hated it when I taught in grad. school, and I hate it now. It gets under the fingernails in a way that makes me want to shudder.

Oh, and your across-the-street dude checking his volume? Sweet, sweet, sweet...

Omaha Mama said...

Ah, I love school. I'm a schoolie school-loving nerd. This post made me feel happy. As I approach the end of my twenties, I've been reflecting on the time I spent in said decade on college. Almost half. Well worth it, and missed. I love higher education. I love lower education. Nerd, I know. xoxoxoxox

Christine said...

i bet my husband has that article somewhere--gotta get him to find it for me now.

and english students do dress pretty well.

your first day outfit sounds lovely.

Jenifer said...

You dress nice! No matter what I always got first day jitters, in jobs, school, whatever. I think that is a good thing actually, it shows you still care.

As for chalk I used to be a big fan as a kid, now it kind of bugs me. Papoosie Girl's teacher has all kinds of eye trouble from chalk dust. She mostly uses a white board or a paper easel for her class. Now that PG has her again it is actually better for us as chalk dust can trigger her asthma.

The guy across the street was raised by good parents.

Glad the first day is over so you can get some rest!

nomotherearth said...

I had a lot to say about parts of this post, but then got lost in the last few sentences. That's exactly how I feel - like things could not possibly return to normal, but they sort of did. And now I'm heading into upheaval mode all over again. Ack!

cinnamon gurl said...

I think I have a crush on your neighbour across the street. How sweet is that, checking his volume?

Amy U. said...

Oh man, your post made me miss university, BAD! That's something I never thought I would say, ever.

It's much more satisfying to write in chalk on a chalkboard than on a white board.

BOSSY said...

This is a cool run-down.

Gwen said...

Except for the chalk part, which always ruined my clothes and my delicate tulip skin (ha!), this really really makes me want to go back to school.

Kyla said...

I'm with Sin. That neighbor boy is sweet.

Glad the jittery first day is over and you can get on to the rest of it.!

NotSoSage said...

Aww...I love how totally considerate and inconsiderate students can be at once. Love it.

This was so excellent, especially because I am ohsofamiliar with the campus of which you speak. It was a little taste of my history.

Beck said...

That's kind of sweet that he went and checked the volume level. That made me love him, a little bit.
I HATED university, which was SUCH a disappointment - I'd thought I was going to love it! But noooo. It sounds like a lot of fun, the way you write about it though, I say, wistfully.

Mad Hatter said...

Whoa. I can't wait to see the sidewalk chalk art that you and the Munchkin get up to. Organized violence on everyday sidewalks?

Her Bad Mother said...

This is the first year in quite a few years that I am NOT teaching. I feel its absence. This made me feel it more keenly, which isn't a bad thing.

bubandpie said...

I'm with you on the chalk - I'm so glad that 2 out of my 3 classrooms have chalk rather than whiteboard this year.

I was just having this exact conversation about clothing with a friend on campus last week - I was supposed to be in charge of the course committee meeting, a duty I tried to hand off to my friend on the grounds that she was wearing a skirt, whereas I had glasses on, unwashed hair, and some sort of horrible capri pants. This, however, qualifies as a power suit in academic terms - it's only the up-and-comers who dress up. Looking like a slob conveys that you're too powerful and high-status to NEED good clothes.

Oh, The Joys said...

I am picturing you in that cute little outfit flashing your boobs at math majors now.

Bon said...

i, too, dress up. i finally seem to have found clothes i like...for years i dressed like an androgynous academic because all the professional womens' clothes were so square and hideous. i did this long before i was even pretending to be an academic...it was just the era. but i think B&P has a point - i definitely point out my nontenure "class" on our small, non-radical campus by wearing my seafoam mock t and tulip skirt and boots (yes, apparently we're twins or you're just a goddess of taste.)

as for the chalk...i'm not teaching this fall and the only thing i don't miss is the chalk on the arse of all my black things.

and the boy, listening for his stereo volume? cutie.

Alpha DogMa said...

Chalk seems to be the time tested medium of university learning, so while I love the mystique I do find the whiteboard more sanitary and functional. I loathe overhead projectors. Please tell me these are now extinct in academia?

Mimi said...

Oh, AD, they're proliferating almost as fast as they are stolen, so now they're mostly found bolted to the ceiling in tiny cages, like dangerous rabid squirrels, only brighter.

Bon: let's go shopping!

kittenpie said...

Nice snapshots!

bren j. said...

I've always noticed that chalk-users end up with the driest hands! But if that's what you prefer...you're the Professor!

Also, only $83 for textbooks?!?! Wow! That's a pittance! Kudos to you for keeping the cost down - whether it was intentional or not!