Monday, August 20, 2012

Day One

My first (official) meeting of my HON 179 course on "Metamorphoses in Math and Language" met just a half-hour ago. The students, almost without exception brand-spankin' new, first-semester students, are a bit quiet, still shy about speaking up in front of one another, especially when called on to talk about hifalutin' things like one's personal sense of purpose and vision.

"Why are you here?" I asked them to reflect on, after reading them Billy Collins's "Monday" and suggesting that the poet seems to presume that everything be in its right place. "Why are you here right now?"

While the students wrote in response to this intentionally vague prompt, I reflected in a brief freewrite in my daybook (my colleague Libby will be delighted to know that I'm asking all of the students in this class to keep daybooks this term):

"Why am I here? I'm here to share some wonderful words, to learn how they affect others (do they affect you the same way they affect me?). I'm here to help you all begin to discover your academic selves, to adjust to expectations, new environments, new settings.

"We've seen so much; we've seen so much, now let us see it all together, let us unpack it, sort it through, try to understand what we can make of it. What do we have here?

"What can you bring? That is what I'm here to discover. That is what I'm here to learn.

"What can we do together?"

It occurred to me just moments ago, sitting here in my new office, across the quad, buildings away from my long-time community in the Math Department, one floor down from my adoptive  home in Literature & Language, the sort of changes I'm making right now. They outwardly appear dramatic ones, a break from my old department (a metonym for the discipline), a move across campus into new functions and duties, a new set of colleagues and coworkers...but it's much as though I've consummated a marriage that followed a long engagement with cohabitation: I've done enough interdisciplinary work for the past several years, and in that time I've worked with so many people across campus that this new move doesn't seem all that new.

I've got this. I can handle it.

Now to get ready for my second first class of the semester, Complex Variables...could I be teaching two more different courses this term?

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