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Category: Reflections on Teaching

first day of class
professor writing on board
I've been retired, as in not teaching undergraduates, for almost a decade now. I miss the students. I miss some of my colleagues. But what I miss most is the beginning of the school year. It's a new start—new students, sometimes new content, a few new colleagues, the usual spate of new administrators, maybe a new building, a new classroom or two, or some much-needed new furniture. Nearly everybody is happy to be back, especially those students who spent the summer behind the deli counter or the end of a weed eater in the hot sun. The courses, even though you've taught them before, won't be the same. Oh, some of the same stuff will happen—students will show up with excuses (some just too good to be true), some won't be working as hard as they should be, others won't be working at all, the amount of grading will be overwhelming, and there'll be those disappointing exchanges as to what merits a point (or part of one). And there'll be faculty meetings where the discussion goes on way too long. But there will also be surprises—a question you've never been asked before, a paper so good it takes your breath away, an activity that soars to new heights, another that flops. Teaching is not a predictable profession. At the beginning of the year, all things are possible. A good grade in the course is still an option for everyone. It can be the year of your best teaching—the best course a student has ever taken. It can be the course when a student falls in love with a field and discovers what he or she really wants to do. The beginning of a course is a bit like a honeymoon, a time of happiness and great expectations. But the honeymoon is a small part of a larger and longer relationship. The life that follows isn't a honeymoon, and it's the same in courses. Before too long, somebody makes a mistake, which others follow with more missteps. But that brief honeymoon is a great way to begin, and what we imagine (and hope for) then could come to pass in the rest of the course—for some of the students, for some of the time. Some course is going to be the best one the teacher ever taught. So begin again, realistic about the year ahead but still madly in love with all that every course can become. Honeymoons are meant to be enjoyed.