Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Truth to power

This semester I have fewer obligations as chair of the first year program than last semester, when I had to shepherd the teams of seminar fellows (peer advisers) and faculty advisers greeting an incoming class of 250+, even while putting together the curriculum for 2010-11. The faculty advisers pretty much took care of themselves, but I facilitated a weekly meeting of the seminar fellows which taught me lots about student experiences and concerns. All that's left for the Spring is overseeing seven "Reading NYC" courses and helping them put up a final exhibition, finalizing the course offerings for next year, and eventually starting the selection process for a new squad of seminar fellows.

Except for the 18 new first years, who for various and variously interesting reasons have just started this semester. They meet weekly with a seminar fellow, who comes to see me each week too. We met today, and he gave me a reflection on his experiences so far. One remark caught me unprepared: I have already explained to them that some teachers think that their class is the most important event in their students' lives. This is obviously not true, and probably will not ever be true. The key is to balance social life with academic life, and to understand that the two are not mutually exclusive. Obviously? Ouch!


Helena said...

I disagree; a class could easily be the most significant event in a student's life (to that date, at least). That doesn't mean that professors should assume as much, though!

mark said...

Thank you. Do we have your permission to leave open the possibility that one of our classes might - perhaps only in retrospect - change your life? I know that many of us who persisted with further degrees tell of such life-changing courses. But I also know, from hearing back from students who have found courses I took transformative in some way, that the transformation isn't reliably what I intended with the course. I recall meeting an alum a few years ago at an event about Pope Benedict's theology who told me my class had led to his conversion to Catholicism. !!!

Helena said...

Yes, certainly know that it's a possibility! I would think that it's one of the great privileges of being a professor to know that you can have that much influence over your students. But intending transformation, as you say, shouldn't be the goal (as I'm sure it wasn't when you converted a student to Catholicism, hah).