End of the semester

Last week was a busy one for me. On Tuesday, E. and I went out on a day-long shopping trip. The biggest thing we did was to do some shopping around for a new mattress. I tend to move around a lot as I’m falling asleep and the motion bothers E., so we were looking for something that wouldn’t translate movement from one side of the bed to the other. After lying (and bouncing) on a couple dozen mattresses we finally found something that we like and made arrangements to have one delivered to Heather House.

On Wednesday we took a road trip to Ikea. E. is organizing her office and needs lots of storage, as well as a big desk and sewing table. We collected a good assortment of furniture for her and a few more things for our living room and dining room. We also happened upon some outdoor furniture that we liked very much. Of course, that was too much for us to carry home in the back of the car, so we arranged to have most of it delivered, too.

Thursday, the history department held its annual retreat. We didn’t retreat very far, just to another building on campus, but we had a catered breakfast and lunch and dealt with a huge amount of departmental, academic, and administrative business. Unusually for a departmental meeting, we managed to mostly stay focused and get things accomplished. One of the things that got accomplished was that my proposed courses got approved.

In the afternoon I attended the graduate graduation. It was long and rather tedious, but the commencement speaker they had was terrific. He was quite an old man, someone who has been teaching in public schools since the fifties and writing about his experiences. He did not so much give a speech as tell some stories from his experience, but all with a point: that the best teachers are those who let their students see them as the people they are and who try to see their students for the people that they are, and that all of the testing and standards and curricula that administrators get so obsessed about just get in the way of simple act of making contact from one human being to another that teaching is all about. It was a powerful speech and well worth being around to hear.

On Friday there was a teaching conference on campus. I went to a couple of sessions and the keynote address. The first session was given by someone in the business school about her experiences teaching business writing. The kinds of assignments she gives were not very applicable to history, but her description of the process of developing and refining an assignment was interesting and quite useful. The keynote speaker was a professor of African-American studies who gave a great talk about dealing with emotionally difficult subjects in the classroom.

On Saturday I attended the undergraduate commencement. That was a truly long and tedious affair, but still I considered it my responsibility to be there. And that was the end of my obligations to SSC until the fall. Now my summer is here and, although I have plenty of things to do, I can also take some time to really relax.

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