O Brave New Semester . . .

Johann Schoner Globe 1520

Johann Schöner, Globe, 1520.  At times, we all may feel that the semester will resemble this image: some parts known and familiar, some unknown, some speculative or just plain made up.  We should give ourselves permission to feel those things.  Via Cartographic Images.

To my students this fall:

Welcome to the new semester, to Butler Community College, and to college more generally.  Not that you are required to be reading these words (and before I forget, welcome to this blog, too), but the fact that you are bodes well for you.  It shows you to be curious and to be willing to go above and beyond what will be expected of you as students, both of which are attributes that will stand you in good stead in college . . . and beyond.

If you are entering freshmen, much of what you’ll be encountering this fall will be brand new to you.  You are probably excited and nervous, and perhaps even apprehensive about all of this newness.  You may also be thinking, “All this new-semester stuff is old hat to the guy who is writing these words.”  That’s not an unfair assumption on your part.  After all, this marks my 17th year at Butler, and at my prior university I taught for seven years before coming here.  So, I’ve been in this business for a while now.  But this year will be very different for me as well, though mostly in ways that will be invisible to you, and those differences are such that, in many ways, I will be feeling very much like you probably do about this semester.

We have new books.  Our department has a substantially revised edition of our Comp I text and a completely-new Comp II text.  The Comp I text has new selections that we’ll be eager to try out in the classroom and/or use as inspiration for paper assignments; maybe some of them will work well, and maybe some won’t, and maybe some will work well in one class but not in another–there’s no way to know until the moment we begin to work with them together.  In the case of the Comp II text, we’ll be learning how best to make use of it right along with you as you read it and think about what you’ve read.

MLA citation style has changed.  It hasn’t changed too much, the changes chiefly affect entries on Works Cited pages, and I think that on the whole MLA has changed for the better.  But: it is different from what it was just this past spring, which means that I and the instructors in other disciplines who will ask you to use MLA will be learning it right along with you.

I have a new office, and a new office mate.  Big deal, you may think.  Well, it is when you consider that for the past 14 years my office has been at McConnell AFB and now it will be at the Rose Hill campus–I have fears that one day, simply out of habit, I’ll head off to the McConnell site and not realize what I’ve done till I pull into the parking lot of the building where the education wing is.  As for sharing an office, this fall will be the first time in many, many years that I’ve done this.  Fortunately, I happen to know and like my colleague, but knowing and liking someone doesn’t mean that learning how best to share a space with that person will always be the smoothest of adjustments.  She and I will have to learn and adjust to the work rhythms and quirks of the other.

I’ll be teaching at three different campuses this semester.  (Four, if you count two different buildings in Andover as different campuses.)  Very occasionally for the past 14 years, I have taught at, at most, two sites.  At times this fall, though, it will feel as though I live in my car.  And, knowing myself as I do, I will make the occasional wrong turn as I head off to wherever I’m supposed to be–not to mention the probable occasional confusion regarding what we’re doing in each class.

My wife and I have just bought a house and will be moving into it at the end of September.  You all can probably write some version of the rest of this paragraph yourselves.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  However, even if all these new-to-me things were not going on, I would still feel excited and nervous: You, after all, are as new to me as I am to you, and the early days of the semester do much to set the tone for how things will go the rest of the way.  I want to get those things right.  For the next four months, we have to learn and work and, in an intellectual sense, live together as a community of scholars.  That word live is important in this context.  College is in many respects like a job; but at its most effective, none of us, your profs included, should feel as though we’re just showing up and punching a time clock.  My deepest hope is that I am able to convey to you that I care about what we do and how well you do it, and that you will come to care as well or, at the very least, come to see its value and respect it.  If that happens, the newness (and bumpiness) of this semester will soon come to feel comfortable and, maybe, like home.  My pledge to you is to do all I can to make that happen for you.

Again: welcome to class!

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