I have never once come to the first day of class without a syllabus, but at the start of every single semester I have nightmares that I show up with materials for the wrong class, that I forget to show up to teach one of my classes for an entire semester, that the campus changes shape so that I can’t find my classroom, and on and on and on.
March 2 of this year marks the tenth anniversary of the day I taught my first class. My current college is on the semester system, but before that, I taught four quarters a year. That’s a lot of nightmares. But, as in the adage that you can’t be a good horseback rider until you get thrown 99 times, I stopped counting long before I hit the magic number.
I am not alone, either. If you visit our department during the first week of classes, you’ll see a whole bunch of extremely competent faculty pretending that they don’t feel like teenagers trying to open their lockers on the first day of high school. Some of them have taught twice as many years as I have, and some of the coolest ones will still admit that they always feel nervous on the first day. The rest of them just look like they do.
So what if I spend the start of the semester with a vertiginous feeling that I am going to fall on my face? I think that if I ever stop feeling nervous on the first day, it will mean one of two things: one, that I am actually dead and don’t realize it (I know, I know, The Sixth Sense has warped an entire generation); or two, that I have stopped caring. Both of these options are undesirable, but I think I would prefer death to apathy. That finger-in-socket zap of stage fright means I’m still alive (which, incidentally, is more than I can say for M. Night Shayamalan’s last few movies).
On Friday night – yes, Friday night! – I had one dream after another about writing syllabi, each wave of syllabus-writing perfectly mundane and lifelike. I woke up on Saturday surprised and a little outraged that my classes were still not prepped, considering how much time I’d already spent on them. I did what I do every semester: I sat down at the computer and got to work.
The week before classes, full-time faculty have a week of nearly back-to-back meetings, workshops, retreats, and meet-and-greets, and, sometimes, last-minute class schedule changes that might necessitate writing a last-minute syllabus. Most of the meetings are necessary and valuable, but the schedule is exasperating. This semester I have some new responsibilities, so I took a look at my Professional Week calendar, narrowly avoided hyperventilating, and decided that – perhaps for the first time – to prep my classes early. Nevertheless, I fully expect the nightmares to commence on their usual schedule.
Sweet dreams, colleagues!