Wednesday, September 14, 2005
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?).Posted by Derek Mueller at September 14, 2005 10:00 PM to Dry Ogre Chalking