Carleton’s Fall Term officially started yesterday.
The first day of Fall Term feels different from the first days of Winter and Spring Terms. The first day of Fall Term is a culmination of several months of planning and anticipation, unlike the first days of Winter and Spring Terms. There’s the frenetic anxiety present at the start of any term around meeting a new set of students and wondering whether your carefully-designed course will go as planned or go off the rails, of course. But since Fall Term also starts off the academic year, I’ve found this heightens our already-heightened anxiety, and adds to the anticipation. And the first day of Fall Term has its own special schedule, with shorter classes, Opening Convocation, and the president’s reception for faculty and staff. I think this is why at the end of the first day of Fall Term, I’m ten times more exhausted, and more relieved, than after the first days of other terms.
I’m teaching one class this term, a first-year seminar on Ethics of Technology. It occurred to me, right before classes began, that given my class’s time slot, this would likely be my students’ FIRST CARLETON CLASS EVER. No pressure, right? And after 4 consecutive terms of teaching fully online (except for Comps), I worried a bit about being rusty with how to run and pace an in-person class. Turns out, the majority of my students spent the better part of the last school year virtually, so we’re all rusty and re-learning how to learn with others in the same physical space.
Class went really well. I’m really liking this group of students and, from what I could discern in one 50 minute class meeting, their collective energy. I used an icebreaker activity to get students thinking about how their experiences build frameworks through which they make judgments, which then segued into having them think about one of our central course questions (on balance, is technology a net positive, net negative, or neutral for society?) with their frameworks in mind. (We had a particularly lively discussion about chocolate vs. vanilla ice cream.) One icebreaker question was “do you prefer coffee or tea?”, a question I end up asking most of my classes at some point in the term. I’ve found over the years that the younger-skewing my class, the less likely they are to prefer coffee, and that held true in this class as well. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s definitely a consistent trend.
I debated whether I should attend Opening Convo in person, given that we’re not done with baseline testing, but I did and I’m glad I did. Instead of our usual speaker, several faculty, staff, and students read stories submitted by the community about Carleton community members who went above and beyond during the pandemic. It struck exactly the right tone. A tradition at Opening Convo is the singing of the alma mater, which made me very nervous, but instead one of the Carleton choral groups sang it for us. And now I want us to have them sing at every Opening Convo, instead of having us all muddle through.
Between class, lunch with colleagues, and Opening Convo and the reception, I was pretty peopled out by the time I left campus. I ended up hanging out with the neighbors when I got home, so I’m starting today with depleted people reserves and a schedule full of meetings. Whoops.
It was lovely to be back in person, and it was lovely to start of the term on such a positive note. I’m really looking forward to the term ahead!
What I’m reading: Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, by Ruha Benjamin. HIGHLY RECOMMEND so far.