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In a half-asleep moment late Friday night, I caught myself in a dream, speaking to three dozen people I don’t know. Yet.


They will be taking a course from me this semester, which starts tomorrow. In my half-dream, I was speaking to them on the first day of class: It’s a privilege to be able to work with you this semester. I love this course, I love teaching it and, most of all, I love working with first-year students. Here’s why what we’re going to learn is important to you now and for the rest of your lives. Let's get started

My approach to teaching will be much different than before. I had shingles in June and spent the month in bed, but it turned out to be a blessing—albeit a painful one—because I had a lot of time to think about how students learn and whether my teaching was serving them as well as it could, or should.

After I recovered, I read two books to help me come up with better ideas. The first book deliberately led me back to my own days as a student and prompted me to recall specific episodes. Most of them took me back to junior high school and high school. With one exception, these episodes involved teachers embarrassing me in the classroom: a social studies teacher who accused me of cheating. A math teacher who scoffed because I had “only” earned an A-minus on an algebra test. A science teacher who sneered when I answered a question about how far back the origins of humans reached—and then failed to acknowledge her mistake the next day when I brought in a copy of National Geographic that proved her wrong. The message I took from the book: Don’t embarrass students.

The second book was about teaching first-year college students. The book is 265 pages, and after I was finished, dozens of pages were dog-eared, and dozens more had notes in the margins or passages underlined. I still need to go through the book again to make lists of what I found important, but I have already heard one powerful message: I don’t know first-year students nearly as well as I thought, and as a result, my teaching isn’t nearly as good as I thought. That’s a clear call—a mandate, even—for change.

Teaching is going to be more work than usual. I’m going to have specific goals for each class. I’m going to evaluate each class to see if those goals were met. I'm going to solicit much more information from students about how we're doing. There’s much to do that's new. There are things I need to stop doing. And there are things I need to do better. I don’t want to say I’m going back to Square One, but it’s fair to say I’m back to about Square Three.

I wasn’t satisfied after last semester, and I was disappointed with the measurable course outcomes. Simply put, they were unacceptable. So now comes the challenge of doing better. The challenge starts tomorrow morning at 8:30, when I will look around the oval table, see all of fresh faces, and say, Welcome. It’s a privilege to be able to work with you this semester. I love this course, and I love teaching it.

Let’s get started.
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Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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