Redemption?

So, after my morning class in which people couldn’t bring themselves to speak, I went to my afternoon class during which we spent the whole hour discussing and debating a single question. One student would make a comment and another five students would raise their hands to weigh in.

Not only that, but the topic was the proper role of religion in public life — with specific reference to President Bush — and the students all handled the issue incredibly well. They expressed their opinions and listened to others’ opinions in a very respectful way. It was one of the best discussions I’ve ever had in class. Go figure!

Now, if only I could figure out the formula for that and bottle it.

Stupefication?

35 students in an introduction to sociology course, in which I’ve tried to cultivate an ethic of participation + a question to which they have prepared a written answer ahead of time = 35 students looking at me as if I am speaking Aramaic when I ask them to discuss their answers to said question in class.

I return to my office after to read the written responses, which are very well-done and thoughtful.

What is the source of the gap between these two things? Is it simply not worth the effort to speak in class if that is not specifically rewarded? Or are students paralyzed by the fear of looking “stupid” or “know-it-all” in class? Or something else I can’t see?

I certainly don’t want to come to the same conclusion that the novelist Vladimir Nabokov came to when he was observing the students he taught at Stanford: “The great fraternity of C-minus, backbone of the nation, steadily scribbling on.”

Can I get a witness?

“Wasting” Time on Students?

MLK HOLIDAY ’05: THE CAUSE FOR WHICH HE FOUGHT IS STILL A CAUSE, AND THE DREAM FOR WHICH HE DIED IS STILL A DREAM

On the brief, five minute walk from the kids’ bus stop to my office last week, I was bothered by a familiar feeling. The first three days of the week I had “wasted” too much time dealing with students (enrollment in class, getting together course materials, etc.). All I had to look forward to on this day, too, was class related work. As I walked, I racked my brain thinking about my schedule for the day, wondering when I would be able to squeeze in some “real” work.

This uneasy and unwanted feeling is one of the legacies of working at Our Lady’s University for six-plus years. I was socialized at OLU to see students as taking time away from my real work. How ironic, since I became a professor precisely because I wanted to spend time with students.

One of the attractions of Wake Forest University for me, then, is its focus on undergraduate education. So, I’m excited to be at an institution whose educational values are more in line with my own. (Or so it seems. Of course, I have been fooled already by OLU, so I’m more guarded about professed values vs. institutional realities now. I mean, I embarrassed to say now that I bought OLU’s rhetoric hook, line, and sinker.)

My experience last week made me see that this deeply ingrained feeling of alienation from students may take some time to shake. It may take me a while to embrace fully the time I get to spend working with students and working on classes; to see them as my real work rather than a distraction from my real work. Who knew that getting back to my professorial roots would take work?

One Down, Many More to Go

Two weeks in NC and one week of classes are now behind me. I felt like I was going non-stop the whole time: getting here, moving in, setting up at home, getting the kids started in school, meeting the principals and teachers, moving in to my office, figuring out how things work on campus, preparing for classes, managing enrollments, and teaching.

I finally hit the wall on Thursday. I picked up the kids at school and we came home for a snack. At about quarter to four, Chipper asked if I would play basketball with him. I said sure, but let me take a 15 minute nap first. Well, I woke up an hour and a half later. Just in time to make dinner.

Speaking of which, I am proud to say that we did not eat out once during our second week here and I never failed to provide the kids with a lunch for school. Not to say that they’re getting alot of diversity, but they are getting some good “anticipatory socialization” for when they are living as bachelor/ette/s later in life. Our dinner entrees last week were: dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets, fried chicken, burritos, left over burritos and chicken nuggets, fish sticks and pizza. Kids also have to eat vegetables with every dinner. This weekend I am going to make fresh fish. I have a recipe for cod, called “Torsk,” that allegedly makes the fish taste like lobster. Of course, my kids don’t like lobster. But I guess if they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat. We’ll see.

So, we’re basically settled in now and looking forward to the start of the spring tennis season. Wake Forest University doesn’t field softball or lacrosse teams, so the spring here won’t be as much fun as at Our Lady’s University. But I guess that is what PlayStation is for!

Questions and Answers

Yesterday was the first day of classes for the semester, and my first day of classes ever, at Wake Forest University. Which raises a number of questions that I’ll try to answer quickly. Further observations will no doubt be posted as I make them.

How’s the weather?

It depends on what you like. You probably wouldn’t like it unless you like 60-70 degrees and sunny during the second week of January. Tennis, anyone?

How was the first day of class?

OK, the first day of class was not without its challenges. Monday night, because I was nervous/excited about my first day of classes at Wake Forest, I couldn’t fall asleep right away. So, I turned on the TV and got caught up in a bizarre episode of “The Surreal Life” with Peter Brady and Mini-Me and one of the non-famous women from the Go-Go’s. So, I didn’t log many hours of sleep before my first classes, but the adreneline carried me through.

I am teaching introductory sociology and a sociology of religion course, both of which I’ve taught many times before, so there won’t be too much heavy lifting involved in terms of the course material. Of course, there’s a great expenditure in energy in actually conducting class. I have a 9:30 am class, then two hours of office hours, then a 1:30 pm class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Right after my afternoon class dismisses, I go and meet Chipper and Beth at the bus stop. Which is just as well since I am totally spent after that much time teaching. (How teachers who teach all day, five days a week do it, I am not sure!)

Not surprisingly, I’ve encountered various technical problems related to being a new faculty member starting in January, rather than August like most of the new folks. For example, I was told to save on copying expenses by emailing my syllabi to my class roster, but I couldn’t access my class roster until Tuesday. Students in my intro soc class told me they couldn’t get the textbook at the bookstore, so I called and was told that only 14 of 35 copies had arrived. It apparently didn’t concern anyone at the bookstore until I called. They ordered another 21 copies, to arrive today or tomorrow (hopefully), but because the students have an assignment to do for Thursday, I had to make photocopies of the first chapter. Of course, a student then pointed out that the assignment for Thursday requires them to consult another chapter of the textbook, so I had to find the graphic I refer to and put it up on the course web site. For my religion class, I assigned five books, so I can only imagine what sort of mess awaits me there. A couple of students have already said that two of the books are sold out. With my luck, it will be the book we are using next week!

On the positive side, both of the classrooms I teach in are in the same building as my office, so I just need to walk around the corner to get there. And both have good technology. I can bring my laptop to class and easily project images or videos, and I can play music, which I love. In both classes we listened to Petey Pablo’s “Raise Up” (homage to North Carolina). In my religion class we also listened to Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” (for obvious reasons), and in intro we listened to Alanis Morissette’s “You Learn” (stresses that learning an active and relational process).

Now, if I could just get a replacement battery for the piece of crap they put in my third generation iPod, I can just leave my computer behind and play music directly from that.

What are the students like?

I haven’t had too much direct interaction with the students yet, but they are similar to students at Our Lady’s University in some ways and different in others.

The biggest similarity I immediately noticed is that the students travel in packs. Almost everyone in class, it seems, is taking the class with a friend, roommate, teammate, or frat/sorority brother/sister. The students also wear “hang dog” faces in class. I mean, the atmosphere just feels so heavy when I walk in the classroom. Maybe I need to play some more raucous music at the start to pep things up. I’ll experiment with Trick Daddy’s “Let’s Go” and Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started” on Thursday. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

The feeling I get in class raises a question, though, which I also had at OLU : why do people who live such privileged lives seem so somber? Like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, when their biggest concern of the day isn’t how to eat but what to eat. (I should add that I am guilty of this same thing myself.)

Among the differences I’ll be watching are:

(1) Regional differences. The three best represented states so far are Florida, New Jersey, and North Carolina. At OLU, I had the most students from Indiana, Illinois, and New York.

(2) Religious differences. At OLU, I had 80-90% Roman Catholics. Here, the predominant religious group is Baptist, followed Episcopalians. I was surprised by the Episcopalians, but it makes sense if the university draws from rich, Southern families. Here at Wake Forest, I also have a diverse group of other religions represented (Jewish, Christian Science, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, nondenominational, Methodist, Lutheran, and even a couple of stray “Romans”).

(3) Fraternities and sororities. I had pairs of sorority sisters in my classes — evident from their t-shirts — which definitely got my attention. There are no greeks at OLU and greek life was not big at my alma mater, UC-Berkeley. All I really know about them is that two of my friends at Berkeley lived in a sorority because the house had extra rooms. Not exactly a center of campus life, at least not back then. So, we’ll see what effect that has on campus life.

Well, that is all that you need to know about my first day of class at Wake Forest University — and more.

North Carolina Come On and Raise Up

NOTE: Any time I put a proper name in quotation marks, that means I am using a pseudonym. I will try to do this the first time I use a pseudonym in any posting.

First of all, let me say that my two kids, “Chipper” (9 going on 10) and “Beth” (7 going on 8), and I made the two day, 700 mile journey from our previous home to North Cackalacka without incident. And, yes, we did blare Petey Pablo as we crossed over from West Virginny into NC. If I wasn’t driving, I would have taken my shirt off, twisted it around my head, and spun it like a helicopter.

We are currently separated from my wonderful wife of nearly 12 years, “Bella,” and our youngest son, “Lil Ricky” (4 going on 5), who are back in our previous home trying to sell our house. On the afternoon of our arrival, we moved into our 3 bedroom apartment. We had more clothes than any person has a right to own, but only one folding chair and a card table for furniture. A quick trip to Wal-Mart got me an inflatable twin matress, which doubles as a sofa when we’re watching TV. The kids both sleep on the floor. I told them it is fun, like camping! They don’t seem to find it as uncomfortable as I would. Of course, they have less body mass pressing down on the wood floors to make themselves uncomfortable.

On the domestic front, I am feeling some pressure from being entirely responsible for getting them three meals a day. We’ve been eating healthy cereal for breakfast and they have gotten good lunches to take to school so far (we’re 3 days in). Dinner has been typical of my diet during college: hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, pizza, and hamburgers. I should say that they also have to eat vegetables with every dinner, so it’s not terrible.

On a brighter note, we now have cable TV for the first time since 1991, which is good for kids shows, sports, and movies, but otherwise is a total — but irresistable — waste of time. Why was I up at 2:00 am flipping back and forth between “Iron Chef,” professional wrestling, and “The Real World”? Because it was there! For the past 13 years, the bulk of my knowledge of popular culture has come through print media (magazines and the New York Times) or students. I don’t know what’s going to happen now that I can access this culture directly.

Although we’ve been here less than a full week, our weekday routine is as follows: I’m up at 6 or 6:30 am to shower and get dressed. The kids are up at 6:30 or 7 am for breakfast. We head out for the bus around 7:45 (it picks them up about 100 yards from our apartment). I then make the 6 minute walk up to my office where I work until 3 pm when I head back to the bus stop to get the kids. Of course, since I work more than 35 hours a week, I put in more hours after the kids go to bed at 8 pm.

Overall, I’m excited to be here and to get started on my new professional and personal life. Of course, our time here hasn’t been without disappointment. I took the kids to Pig Pickin’s the other day for some bar-b-que and they told us they were out of pig. No ribs, no tips, no pulled pork. Nothing. How is a father supposed to explain to his children why they have no pig at Pig Pickin’s? Well, no one said being a parent is easy.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for my reflections on the previous 7 years and my thoughts looking to the future. Slappy is outtie.