We had dinner the other night with friends and I bought a Woodchuck limited release hard cider called Summer for us to drink, just out of nostalgia. Another summer slipped out of sight in the rear view window as we sped into school.
I never had students write those “What I Did this Summer” essays, although I always thought they’d be fun if you wrote them Natalie Goldberg style. I’ve never had much impulse to write them myself, for that matter, but this summer was so epic (for us) that I’m tempted. Don’t worry! I won’t! But probably that explains why here school has started and I’m as tired now as I was after exams in May. I keep seeing photos from my public school teacher friends’ Facebook pages of their shiny new classrooms, and I can barely muster the energy to just imagine sifting through the piles on my office floor. Never mind actually start!
Still, I have good classes this fall—a first-year composition class, a poetry class, this new South Carolina Studies class online. I worked on the online class much of the summer, which was fun since I really had time to let ideas develop, but also frustrating because—what about the beach?? It’s strange to write a whole course without students there; even if I’m teaching something in a face-to-face class that I’ve taught before, I change it around to work with that group of students.
Each group is a little different, after all, full of people who love to read or hate to read, who are learning how to have their first jobs or who have left careers to come back to school. As I wrote assignments for my classes, I imagined the students and what they would make of the tasks—and then poof! the mythical students are here!
They have practice all afternoon or bad work schedules or new babies or chemotherapy or anxieties about using computers; they’re helping their kids with homework before bedtime. They want to be social workers and lawyers and teachers; they have no idea what they want to be. They want to start businesses, run their businesses better, join the Peace Corps and live off the grid, make money and change the world. They’ve read Melville and Twilight; they watch Game of Thrones and Sherlock.
I see freshmen each year learn that sometimes it’s as simple as doing your homework, see them gain confidence when they start asking for help. I talk to a junior I taught several years ago as a freshman and am amazed at the change. I wonder sometimes what they’re thinking, but then other times I remember hating that philosophy class while I read all the reading, required or not, for that History of Mass Media class. I remember cutting some classes, never missing others, making mistakes, writing that one perfect paper. I showed up for my first college class hoping it would be wonderful—and I keep showing up for my next college class every fall, knowing it will be wonderful and so much work and so frustrating and still so wonderful.
Working on a class all summer alone is odd. It’s like having a long conversation by yourself, like cleaning house and cooking for days waiting for the party to start. The party’s started!