One Semester Down, Three to Go
The last day of USU classes was Thursday, December 10, and though I had two final projects and my own students' grading to finish, for most intents and purposes I was already on vacation. My therapist a couple years ago said that his experience successfully procrastinating as an undergraduate made him less stressed in graduate school. That was one of the most comforting things I ever heard, and I really took it to heart. I've gotten a perfect score on every assignment in every class this semester and still had a lot more free time than I expected. Now I have no classes and no job for over a month; school starts again on January 19 because spring break is canceled to prevent students from traveling and bringing Sharona Cyrus back with them, is what I heard. Next summer, I will probably go back to my old job at Jenson Online for a while to get some extra money, but there's no point trying to do that right now, especially since December is their slowest time of year when they give employees free time off.
I was supposed to attend two sexual misconduct prevention trainings this semester - one for graduate students and one for university employees. I'm not sure why graduate students need to have their own training separate from normal students, but they do. The employee training never happened because it's being rewritten to conform with updated government regulations, but the graduate student training was... interesting. I signed up for a date and time and then showed up to a Zoom meeting with several other graduate students, and it basically went as follows.
Host: This is kind of an awkward topic.
Everyone else: Yes, well, that can't be helped, can it? We'll just have to deal with -
Host: So let's make it less awkward. Let's make it fun.
Everyone else: Uh, what?
Host: I'm gonna put you in breakout groups and have you answer icebreaker questions.
Everyone else: Icebreaker questions?? Um, thanks, but that's really not -
Host: I'm going to put you back in these groups over and over.
Everyone else: You really don't have to -
Host: Build some lifelong friendships!
Everyone else: Please don't do this
Host: Have fun!
Everyone else: We won't
By the fifth or sixth time I returned to my breakout group, none of us were speaking at all. The main group discussion was fine, though notably absent was any mention whatsoever of rights or due process for those accused of sexual misconduct. I'm sure that was just an oversight - this isn't Purdue, after all.
Surprisingly, there doesn't seem to be a rule against graduate instructors asking out their students. I assume that if there were such a rule, it would have been announced very emphatically both during this training and the initial orientation. It makes no difference to me either way since none of my students are old enough or good enough at writing for me to be attracted to them, but I'm just surprised. My colleage Greyson got asked out by one of her students in a weekly reflection post, and she turned him down because it was "unprofessional". In the next week's reflection post he said that he hated her class and everything about it. Then he tried to make her jealous by talking about "this dope girl" he was going out with. Then he stopped coming to class. Then at the end of the semester he said he's dropping out of college and it's all her fault. I'm never going to stop teasing her about it. On a more positive note, one of my students asked out one of his classmates in a discussion post, and I was super impressed with his chutzpah and I hope they get married because that would be the cutest thing ever.
I also was supposed to have to take an alcohol training before I would be allowed to register for classes next semester, and that never materialized either. It would have been a waste of time anyway. I've never consumed a drop of alcohol in my life, and if I ever do, I know I'll immediately drink myself to death and there will be no other problems to consider.
Teaching was... good. I don't know what else to say. It wasn't phenomenal, it wasn't terrible, it wasn't super easy, it wasn't super difficult. I do seem to have natural teaching skills that somewhat compensate for my lack of knowledge or experience. I don't know how I could have acquired any such skills but I don't know how else to account for the semester going so smoothly under the circumstances. I love most of my students - I definitely have favorites, and one least favorite. My favorites are the best writers, of course, but also some others who aren't so good at writing but are just really good hard-working kids. I still don't know what most of them look like. I may have gotten an exceptional batch - my colleagues complained that all of their students wrote about Covid for the "Investigating the Conversation" current event essay, but my students, in addition to a few essays about Covid's effects on this or that, wrote about such diverse topics as Utah's drought, California's wildfires, Chicago's violence, Mexico's water treaty with the US, Chile's new constitution, Bolivia's election, Poland's abortion ban, and China's Uyghur genocide.
I tried to get them to talk and make friends with each other in class. For the most part they were awkward and quiet, but sometimes when they finished their work in breakout groups they asked each other about their lives and majors and stuff, and sometimes when I dropped in they asked me questions about my life and undergraduate experience and that was probably the most enjoyable thing for me so far. They didn't have many opportunities to socialize this semester and I wanted to help them out as much as I could. Most of them are freshmen getting cheated out of their freshman experience. When I was a freshman, events were held on campus and/or in my dorm almost every evening. Live, in-person events. I feel so sorry for these kids. I tried, also, to teach them skills and principles that will help them in everything they do for the rest of their lives. I thought back to a philosophy class I took my first semester, and how it taught me to think, and I wanted to replicate that effect in my own class. I never forced my opinions on anyone but I taught them how to evaluate sources and information and different perspectives, and that will help them be less stupid and dogmatic than most Americans.
I tried, also, to draw on my own experience to urge them to avoid my mistakes and consequent suffering, but here I was less successful. One of my students with a learning disability flunked the class after not showing up or turning anything in for two months, despite being informed by me about the Disability Resource Center four times. I ask myself, what could I have said or done differently to have more of an influence on this student? If nothing, then what's the point of me being here? If I wanted to watch young people ignore my warnings and make avoidable mistakes and suffer, I would become a parent.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.