Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Day 66 & 67 (Round IV) "In the trenches": done edition

Color it done.

Last day of the semester; before finals--for the kids, there's still a lot of work to do, most of which they'll accomplish on entirely too little sleep and entirely too much caffeine, sugar, and chemical additives, but for faculty who are competent and on top of their game, things are winding down. For those colleagues who have the writing-intensive courses this semester, there's a stack of papers to grade, of course--but even that task has been incremented by requiring the kiddos to complete the paper in six stages over the full course of the semester. And by the time the "final draft" rolls around, most of the pointless or irrelevant or space-wasting bullshit (actual Facebook Wall quote: "Dude! Just set your font size to 12.5 and your line-spacing to 2.2 and they'll never know!") is past, and the kiddos are supplying their own rubrics, within the body of the paper, and the grading is relatively straightforward, consistent, and manageable.

I realized the other day that this is the first time, in 10 years, that I've had a semester without the obligation of teaching a roomful of undergraduates. Up until Fall 2009, I've always had, as part of my load, at least one course per semester of the undergraduate large-enrollment history survey. This is the first time that my two courses were all upperclassmen and/or grad-student seminars.

It's an interesting dynamic: yes, teaching the cattle-call undergrad sections is a massive time-sync, it's hard work, there's a ton of busy-work (specially at the end of the semester), there's all sorts of ridiculous "my, isn't it enjoyable raising other people's overgrown infants?!?" plagiarism and other infringement of academic ethics, but there's an undeniable and enjoyable energy from engaging with the sheer uncontrollable lolloping-puppy vibe of a roomful of undergrads. Dharmonia had me in the past couple of days to give a potted 2-day "History of Jazz on Records" lecture--and, by implication, to scare the shit out of the freshmen with the "holy shit! you mean he's going to teach the fourth semester when we're sophomores?!? Jesus, I better get serious!" reaction.

Even after a single semester, I'd already forgotten how much I like that arena-like situation of a lecture hall full of 100 kids. I love the energy that emerges when they're sufficiently rested, but also sufficiently full of testosterone and estrogen, and curiosity, and more than a little fear, and, really and finally, just raw friggin' untapped possibility. I love that vibe and I love to work with that energy.

This has been a hard-ass semester for everybody. And I see the exhaustion, more, and especially, in the grad students. Undergrads walk into class exhausted because they actually think they can get by on no sleep, or a hangover, or Red Bull and nervous energy. Grad students know better, and they walk in exhausted for better reasons: because they're holding down full-time jobs, or raising kids at the same time, or trying to carry 15 or 18 graduate credits (which pretty much trumps out to twice as much work as the typical undergraduate load). There's been a lot of suffering this semester, and a lot of exhaustion, and I think they're ready for it to be done. I sure am, on their behalf.

Just hoping everybody comes through and makes it to shore.

Color it done.

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