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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Starting the Semester

I was thinking today how much I dislike the first week of the semester; I still don't know my students and they don't know me, I worry about whether my assignments are going to work, I have nightmares about showing up in class unprepared (yes, those don't go away). And then it occurred to me that new semesters are among the reasons I LOVE being a teacher.

I am one of those awful folks who get bored easily. I used to have a desk job. I worked in technical writing. I was good at it. I made lots of money doing it. The benefits were good. It made me want to jump out a window.

As a teacher (and a writer and a journalist) my life is always changing. I don't have the same thing to do day in and day out. I get to change EVERYTHING every 15 weeks when the new semester starts. If my students just had a rough group dynamic, if I was having a tough time connecting, if I had a class at one of those times of day when even the prof is asleep; no matter what may go wrong in a semester, it WILL be over in 15 weeks. Even good semesters HAVE to end. I get to rewrite my courses. I get to put new and interesting things into the syllabus. I get to incorporate what I've learned each semester--and believe me, I learn a LOT every semester.

So, for starters, I oughtta stop whining about the new semester. Yes, the first week is a bit tough and frought with danger: I might walk into class to find that I haven't put on clothes this morning (well, actually, that only happens in the scary dreams). But once that tough part is over and we all find our groove, the semester is what it is--good bad and ugly (and I do mean and).

When I was 19, I had a long distance relationship. I told B--- that I missed him and was hoping time would speed up so we'd see each other faster. I'll never forget what he told me.

"I'm hoping time drags by really slowly," he said. "I want time to slow down so that when we do see each other I don't have to beg time to stop. I figure if it's already slow, I can just let it stay that way."

It's silly. It's romantic. It's something 19 year olds and others in love say to each other. And yet...

I no longer ask for time to pass quickly. I always ask for time to go slowly. Even when things are tough--and believe me, when you're teaching full time and taking a PhD things do get tough--and I want to wish time would speed by, I remember what B--- said and change my mind, asking for time to creep.

The point, of course, is far more Zen than what one asks of time (which is kind of like talking to Santa). The point is that if one practices the oblivion one needs to get through difficulties "quickly," one will not be practicing what one needs most to fully enjoy good times: the ability to be in the moment and fully awake to life. That, of course, always leads me to the next organizing principle of my life: I always learn more from challenges than from "good times." I always grow more from the experiences I find most difficult--but only when I fully experience them.

No. I'm not a saint or a martyr. I don't live for pain. But I do recognize that living requires pain. And I do realize that in the big scheme of things, the challenges of the first week of a semester are far from painful--they're just a little discomfort on the road to better things.

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