mountain town near the foot of Pikes Peak, 1,400 miles from Northern Michigan University. It is still summer- just barely – and my summer life, like that of many faculty, is far removed in time and space from my life as a teacher.
But the start of fall semester is just 10 days out, and I am beginning the physical and psychological work of returning.
I imagine other NMU professors doing the same: gathering their far-flung lives, saying goodbye to seasonal pleasures, turning intellectually and organically once more toward the task of teaching. Toward texts and discussions and homework. Toward you, our students.
And you? I imagine you doing a version of the same: finishing that seasonal job, saying good-bye to a summer love, to good friends, to family. Packing the clothes and household essentials you’ll need for the school year.
You’re thinking, perhaps, about the classes you’ve chosen, about texts and discussions and homework. About us, your teachers: whether we’ll be any good, whether we’ll be interesting and knowledgeable, fun and fair. Whether we’ll make you want to come to class.
We’re thinking it, too, you know: Will you be any good? Will you do the reading and homework, so our class time can be spent in interesting discussion, in effective problem-solving, in challenging one another with the material at hand? Will you make us want to come to class, for the satisfaction
of seeing our effort rewarded with your own?
One of the many blessings of summer, for teachers and students alike, is the space it creates between what was and what can be. It makes possible a new beginning in which we can more consciously, and perhaps more gently, regard one another, not so much as faculty and students, but as human beings engaged in a common endeavor: to experience the life of the mind.
We can honor each other most by showing up, and I mean truly showing up. For professors, that means perpetually honing our own knowledge, and continually working to present material in an interesting way. It means avoiding, whenever possible, canned lectures that kill spontaneity; it means inviting you, our students, to be more than passive receptacles of knowledge we pass down from on high.
It means honoring your potential, the possibilities of your expanding minds. For students, showing up means not only coming to class, but doing the hard work of paying attention: listening, questioning,discussing.
It means approaching reading, writing and other out-of-class assignments not as oppressive homework, but as tools intended to enrich and reinforce what happens in the classroom.
It means actively accepting the invitation to learn that we extend; it means honoring our effort.
As the first week of this new academic year draws to a close, it’s worth remembering that we’re all in this together. And it’s worth considering the power of our intent and the quality of our commitment: Do we mean to help each other?