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.