To Ignoble Use

Today, a longer-than-normal day on campus: biked up, three hours of 691
kicked off the morning; half of a tuna sandwich while a student from last fall
popped in to see how things we going, dashed off to five fifteen-minute
conferences with 307 students, hurried up to the second floor of HBC for the
first CCR colloquium of the semester–on Examinations–where I finished the tuna
sandwich (nervousness re mayo), next mixed in a shower with thick-frosted marble
cake and baby-congrats galore, and then a meeting about a hand I’m lending on
some tech stuff…biked back home again.

All-in-all, a busy eleven hours, and although much if it is worthy of comment
(how do exams work in my program?  what played out in 691? joy: babies and
students who return for conversation), I’ve been thinking a lot today about
conferences with students.  I’ve never quite perfected the conference, nor
I have I cemented it into the status of a must practice.  Generally,
I find it useful to set compulsory conferences early in the semester, but it’s
so much more about tone-setting and really talking rather than obliging
institutional roles–the expectancies suspended between us early on (even before
we meet), a pre-conditioning of formality and institutions. Confer, then, to
unravel some of it. And yes, this is much more manageable with lighter teaching
loads. But even with heavier loads, it can be handled by replacing class
meetings with small group meetings–three or four students for fifteen minutes
of face. 

With five consultations today (consultations?  it’s professional
writing…), I’m just over the halfway point for this week.  No need to say
very much about the students (blogging specific details about my students; you
kidding?); the point I’m trying to note is less about the specific interactions
with specific students than it is about the effect(s) of the conference. 
Last spring I didn’t hold compulsory conferences, and the entire semester felt
different.  That difference might be attributable to any number of things,
but my rearview tells me that early-semester meetings might’ve productively
influenced the then-developing dynamics.

Around lunchtime today, we met again in the Noble Room, a spacious lounge
area next to People’s Place coffee shop in the basement of Hendricks Chapel,

center of campus
.  Offices can be a bit stuffy, a bit prof-turf, and,
accordingly, formal-seeming.  Noble Room: relaxed, out in the open, and
relatively quiet.  And then we didn’t see it coming.  A free luncheon
put on by campus ministries. No signs and without warning (midst of
conversation, me and a student), the student group started moving furniture
around, laying out two-liters and sandwich trays, and next (um, beg pardon, but
we’re conferencing here): let us pray.  But, uh, we were mid-sentence and
sharing what I thought was a campus lounge (stop talking?).  Wasn’t a
terribly off-putting thing, turned out.  The one taking the lead finished
with his "food’s ready" and "many thanks, amen" and then we slinked to the
hallway benches where I stayed through the remaining appointments (the entire
time rethinking, why not meet in the office?).


  1. Something I should know about the tuna? Blinker advertised it as fresh catch from Lake O. Really, though, it was a worry about the total sandwhich (well, half of the total sanwhich). There’s no scraping the spoiled mayo off the tuna salad (salvaging), especially during CCR colloquium.

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