Wednesday, October 22, 2008



We're all tired.

I can feel it, I can see it.

Absences are up in all of my classes (not a day goes by without a handful of students missing from Precalc, Godzilla movie marathons or no), and my students are all sick with the second major wave of colds to sweep across campus this semester. My colleagues and I wander around the department with glazed-over looks and blunder bumblingly through committee meetings.

There's more to it than a change of seasons or an onslaught of midterms. There's more to it even than the dip in the Dow and corporate profits.

I admitted to a friend the other day that I feel as though I'm suffering from an existential paralysis, and I don't think that I'm alone in that feeling. The world is holding its breath, and we're all standing here blue-faced, wondering what's going to happen next.

The moon's crawled closer to the sun each morning this week as I've made my daily trek to campus. Dawn breaks around seven or so, with blots of orange cutting through a crisp crepuscular fog. I like this time of year: the mornings are fresh, and though it's cool it's not yet cold, and I arrive at my office invigorated.

I have to admit that motivating my morning Abstract class has been a challenge for me this semester. The students are by nature quieter than those in the afternoon section, and it's often hard to rouse them. Nevertheless, they're a strong bunch, and they're quick to learn. Their committee presentations were wonderful this morning; not one of the three committees fell into the "show 'n' tell" trap of solving the problem for the rest of the class. One committee made explicit reference to the Four Cs rubric, breaking their problem down along the axes laid out by the rubric.

"Honestly, are many of you finding the Four Cs a useful tool?" I asked. "I put it out there as a tool to use, but I certainly don't want it to simply be an exercise in demagoguery. If there's anything I can do to make it better or improve upon it for future classes, let me know."

There was murmured agreement. "I use it to help critique others' work when I'm on a committee," Norbert said. "Since I'm planning on being a teacher, it really helps me to be able to grade others' work. Having some in front of me to structure my comments makes it that much easier." Others agreed, and though it sounds like no one's using the Four Cs explicitly when they're writing their own work, they're often keeping it in the backs of their minds.

The afternoon section, bigger, louder, raucous and rambunctious, offered up shorter committee reports too. They gave fewer details, and seemed a bit more timid in their responses. I wonder how much their trepidation has to do with the size of the class? I wish they'd be more bold, more descriptive. It's hard, it takes practice, but oh, how the practice is repaid!

Midway through this class the torpor returned, and I felt horribly tired. "Are you okay?" Nadia asked as class ended and people began to stow their books and take their leaves.

"I'm just really tired," I admitted.

"You don't seem tired when you're teaching," she told me. I took it as a compliment, whether it was meant that way or not. She's one of the wonderful students in our program who makes my job as pleasurable as it is.

After nearly dozing off during a frankly awful talk in the senior seminar (students: to say nothing about the poorly-organized slides and the too-detailed computations, never ever ever run over time in your talk; it's the singe worst thing you can do and while they'll forgive nearly any other sin audiences will rarely forgive you for those extra minutes), I had an a truly electrifying run home, and for the last few hours I've felt refreshed.

Just now as I was lying on the couch I gave some thought to the third chapter of my stalled series on writing pedagogy, and I promise it will come soon.

For now, bed, with a promise of less tiredness tomorrow.

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