26 January 2010


Today I guess I had a taste of the "real world": I spent most of it in meetings. If I told my students, or any other young person, that if they enter a profession, they will spend much of their time in meetings and will spend much of the rest of their time doing paperwork, I wonder how many of them would decide to be bus drivers or haircutters instead of teachers or accountants.

All right, I've got my whining out of the way. Classes start on Thursday. So I get a "day off" tomorrow, which I'll spend preparing syllabi and other materials for it. Maybe I'll sneak a bike ride in there somewhere.

At least the food at lunchtime was really good. Among the foods were a couscous, pasta and potato salads and sandwiches made of grilled vegetables on whole-grain rolls. And to chase all that tasty, healthy food were some desserts that looked healthier than they actually are: dark chocolate-covered whole-grain pretzels, a raspberry coffee cake and a few other "healthy" snacks. Finally, there were regular and diet versions of Coke and Sprite to wash it all down.

The meal reminded me of a soda float someone used to make with diet Coke and one of the really rich brands (e.g., Ben and Jerry's or Haagen-Dazs) ice cream. This person--a college classmate--reasoned that the diet soda made up for the high fat and caloric content of the ice cream. I must admit, I've employed worse logic in my time.

The lunch came courtesy of one of the publishers of one of the required textbooks. When I wasn't in meetings, I was in a "workshop"--which everyone in the department had to attend--conducted by reps from that company who were introducing a new edition of that book. Those reps are really good at what they do: They smiled and said encouraging things even as I and a couple of other faculty members said, in essence, that the book is not terribly useful for the course in which it's used (Freshman composition) and the level of skills the students bring to it.

It's not a bad book, really. In fact, it's very good for what it is. It's just not a book that the freshmen (most of them, anyway) have the skills to use effectively. Maybe, after they take the course, it will be helpful to them. But in the composition class, there are so many other things we have to teach them in order to prepare them for the rest of their college classes and to make up for all of the things high schools (at least the ones here in New York) seem not to teach anymore.

A few of the faculty members--young ones, mostly--would not voice such concerns. But a few of us older and more cynical, I mean wiser, instructors voiced some of our criticisms. When the reps acted like good reps--which is to say, they acknowledged us without hearing us--we turned to each other and rolled our eyes up.

Sometimes I'd like to bring some of my younger students to a gathering like that to show them what they have to look forward to in the "real" world.

All right, I'll stop being cynical. In spite of everything, I felt really good today. No, I take back "in spite of." I can see a difference in the way some colleagues are reacting--or should I say responding--to me, compared to the beginning of last semester or last year. Someone told me that they can see the confidence I have in, and the peace I feel with, myself. Those reps will probably never see me again; they will take their act to another campus. On the other hand, I feel more like--a peer, for lack of a better word--to Jonathan and Helen and other colleagues in the department. I may not have some of their accomplishments, but I have others. But most important of all, I am feeling more confident about myself. And, as Joanne, a tutor in the Writing Center, said people are responding to that.

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