Why is it that no matter how much I plan through the summer, I’m never ready for the start of school?
It’s Friday as I write, and the first week of classes just ended at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. I’m sorting through the debris now and trying to decide what I will teach next week.
I know there is no need for concern: I have a Ph.D., 25 years of journalism experience and a big mouth. I could talk for an hour on astrophysics if I had a few PowerPoint slides and a darkened classroom.
Every year, however, I panic that the magic is gone. I’m over the nightmare that I will go to school without my pants on, but I still wonder if anything sane will come out of my mouth as those students stare me down.
Sane I was and gracious the students were – even when the AV equipment followed tradition and broke down. That was actually a great kick start for me because I had to wing it while the technicians tinkered in the background.
The first week of school at a university is a wonderful cacophony of expectations, surprises, posturing and hiding. The parade of new clothes is entertaining – especially the fashion fails that will disappear next week. Hormones rage among the freshmen, who three months ago were high school students but are now living away from home for the first time.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the doctoral students knit their eyebrows, dash head-down from classroom to library and wistfully recall when there actually was a summer break.
And there is me. I always start the term with a bright tie, a snappy dress shirt and a sports coat (even though it is invariably hot). It’s a power play, sure, but the students get the impression I’m a pro and I get to reassure myself that I’ve lived through this before. By next week the jacket will be back on a hanger and the tie will come and go.
Once I get going, I enjoy the first lecture. I scan the arc of chairs for the usual suspects: the big guy in a reversed baseball cap who may doze off, the intense young lady bent to her desk and taking notes on everything (including my jokes), the dazed international student blankly looking at me like I’m speaking gibberish. Which to him, I am.
Some professors speculate that they could give a grade to their students on the first day and it would hold true at the end of the term. I’ve thought of that, but it’s really just an admission of failure. The A student in, A student out is a classroom pleasure. But the students who start totally lost but whom you coach to at least a B is a button-bursting victory. They are the ones who will pop up on your Facebook five years later to thank you. Even if you don’t remember their names.
So my jitters are gone, I have notes for next week in one of these piles and I’ve already had one student I vaguely recognize stop me in the hall to say “hello.” Why did I ever worry about the first day of school? It’s going to be a great semester.