Showing posts from August, 2011

Zero Hour

As they say in old war movies, "It's quiet...  too quiet." 

I'm sitting in my office on the first day of my twenty-first year of doing this job, and, frankly, I have butterflies.  This promises to be a long and difficult year.  We have to begin working out  the implementation bugs of a new core, I'm teaching a heavy load and serving for the first time on the Promotions and Tenure Committee.   Yet even without all the added duties, I just get nervous about teaching when I haven't done it for a spell.  It's absurd, I know, but there it is. 

I have also decided to make a few new semester  resolutions.  First, I am going to try really hard not to whine or complain, especially with colleagues (a big sorry to my wife, though).  Second, I want never to miss a chance to be a bit kinder to the people with whom I work, to wait before responding, and to recognize their contributions.  That goes a long way.

Well, that about sums it up.  Nothing else to report.  It'…

Birch Trees and Samovars

A few times a year, but especially in summer, I become fixated on reading a single author or watching films from a single director.  Late last month I went on a Jean-Pierre Melville binge and watched all of his stylized French gangster films back-to-back.  That burned itself out and now I've been over-dosing on Chekhov.  Watched The Seagull, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard over the past few days.  And one thought keeps occurring to me: Chekhov should not work on stage, but somehow he does.

Ostensibly a naturalist playwright, Chekhov's characters have always struck me as anything but natural.  Who stands around hour after hour discoursing on wheat or philosophizing about what the world will be like in 200 years?  The clunkier English translations must be hell for actors to perform.  I've always heard, too, that non-Russians usually fail to see the humor in Chekhov, which means they lard up the play with too much angst and seriousness. Who knows?  Maybe all those manner…

Seemed like a good idea at the time

I think it was Clausewitz who said, "No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy."   Take out the part about their being an enemy and the sentiment could apply just as well to syllabus preparation.  I spent all of last week finalizing the syllabi, assignments, readings and class activities for my courses in the upcoming semester.  And let me tell you, jack, they're perfect.  Everything is well timed and ideally-coordinated for maximum pedagogical impact.  I am even starting to get excited about it.  My inner Boy Scout has shown up and he's ready to go out and change the world.

But hold on.  I've been doing this job for 20 years and should know by now that it never  goes the way I planned.  I will screw something up.  More than once, too.  A quarter of the students won't read the things I've assigned; another 25% will but won't understand it.  The remainder will slog through the readings and assignments with grim resignation.  And all the brilli…