Friday, August 28, 2015

Back in Action


Dear Dad,

The end of summer was, I’m not going to lie, a little anticlimactic at our house. This whole Mom-is-a-full-time-teacher thing is a whole new world for us. All sorts of things are different. There’s no one to pick up groceries in the middle of the day or make sure the laundry gets put in the dryer right away so that it doesn’t get stinky on hot days sitting in the wash. Calenders are fuller, dinner is later, and the first day of school came after two weeks of getting up and going into school during school hours, only instead of spending the day with me in the library, they actually went to class, which was probably a nice change for them. So it’s been a little bit of a weird week, for all of us. Maybe me most especially.

It’s been a long (long, long) time since I started the first day of school as a teacher. Last year about now I was accidentally signing up for grad school. And for the decade plus before that I was one of the moms dropping kids off with a sigh of mixed relief and anxiety. In fact, the last time I started the school year as a teacher I wasn’t yet a mother. I thought my life was full to the brim then. Little did I know how much crazier it could get.

I didn’t know then that the evenings would be full of extra kids over for dinner and homework and chores and golf lessons and swimming nights and did-anyone-take-out-the-trash/walk-the-dog/remember-to-turn-on-the-crockpot-oh-crap-I-forgot-that-thing-at-school-I-needed-to-do-tonight. (Thank goodness for GoogleDrive) It’s a satisfying kind of busy. I’m tired in that way where your arms feel heavier than normal and your eyes are blurry even with glasses on. But it feels good to be back in the library, to get hugs and notes and hear my favorite question, “Gillian, do you have any ideas for a good book?”

We’re back. School is in. Life is good. And now? A glass of wine and a good night’s sleep.


Back to school and the University blues


Dear Gillian,

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.


-- Dad