A new beginning

Happy new academic year!

Today is the start of the new academic year at the Claremont Colleges and I’m confident in saying it’s not going to be like any other before. We’re all online this semester, a first for me–and a first for most of us at the five colleges.

In lots of ways, the liberal arts model is the opposite of online education. It’s very personal. It’s about small, collaborative, and even intimate kinds of learning spaces. It’s as much about the conversations that happen in the hallways and in the quad, in the dining halls and in the dorms, as the ones that happen in the classroom.

Of course, online education can be a lot of these things. It’ll just take work, creativity, and a willingness to fail and grow. I’ve literally spent the last two months preparing my classes and while I feel as unprepared as I do for any other semester (maybe a little more so because it’s hard to anticipate what the normally predictable “feel” of the semester will be), I’m also excited about working with students to define what our new learning context can mean for us.

Maybe the most fun part of this is that I feel like a new professor again, despite the fact that this is my 19th year as a full-time professor (tenure-track and tenured combined). I got my first TA gig at Cal back in 1995. That makes this year the start of my 25th year as college instructor.

I first arrived at the Claremont Colleges in August 1990 as first-year undergrad at Claremont McKenna College. After graduating, I went straight to grad school at UC Berkeley and then got my first academic job straight out of Cal. That means I’ve been in this higher education world consistently for the last three decades, making this the start of my 31st consecutive year in higher education.

It’s always mind-blowing to write the above. None of it seems odd to me and all of it feels right but, at the same time, how have I been alive long enough to have been in a single industry for three decades?

And so it continues and, yet, begins anew. May it be a good year.

Good Times

I’ve said it here before but it’s worth saying again: I’m mentally and emotionally colonized.

I’ve been living in institutions of higher education for the majority of my life–more than 30 years. As a result, those institutions have a dominating influence on me and my thinking. Their values and patterns of being inordinately become my own.

Nowhere is this more true than in the timing of things. The rhythms and pace of higher ed are the rhythms and pace of my own life. My life follows the predictable course of the semester. My autumns move fast and ebb and flow. My springs are marathons that end with a grind. This is true for my work as much as it is for my life. Maybe the most powerful evidence of this is in the fact that I speak of years not in terms of the calendar year but in terms of the school year.

This has been a crazy year. It was a comeback year, going back to work and stepping back into the classroom after a summer of major surgery. It was a year of familial adjustment. My wife started working full-time (more than full-time, actually) and that meant changes for us all, individually and as a family.

You can get a sense of what this year has been like just by observing how frequently (or infrequently) I’ve posted on this blog. Over the thirteen years I’ve been writing here, the frequency of my posting has always varied as family or work take precedent. (Maybe that happens more because I tend to favor posts that take time to put together like a mini-essay, another example of how I’m colonized by academia.) I was on a a pretty regular pace for most of 2018-19 until the fall semester got fully underway and my wife started working. And then COVID happened.

I don’t like to complain about it because I’ve got a job, my wife has a job, and we’re all healthy and happy. Still it’s been a whole mix of ups and downs for us, just like for everyone else. Most days it feels like we’re keeping our heads above water alright and doing okay, but not much else. It’s boring most of the time. My kids know how to find their way out of that better than most but they’ve also grown a little accustomed to this new pandemic life.

Like I said, it’s not all bad. In fact, a whole bunch of it is pretty good. I wish we were all back to the lives we had before but it has been pretty great to have the kids with me all day, every day for more than 140 days now. Our relationship has evolved in good ways, deeper ways, and I really enjoy watching them grow and learning about them as the people they are and are becoming. It’s my silver lining, and I’ll miss it like crazy when this is over.

My #3 starts 4th grade tomorrow. The other two don’t start school (first day of middle school for one and first day of high school for the other) for a few more weeks. And I start my online semester in two. I’m scrambling like crazy to prepare myself and we’re all baby-stepping our way out of summer and into some form of a more scheduled, homeschooling life. We don’t know what it’ll be like but we do know the familiarity and predictability of the the fall semester won’t be there to lean on.

It’s going to be crazy times ahead for us, no doubt, but it’s all good. We got good kids and a good family, everything we need to be safe and cared for, and we got each other. It’s crazy times but good times. Like the song said–ain’t we lucky we got ’em?