We have begun our initial descent (and final approach toward finals)

The old saying is that there are two things no one should ever see: how sausage is made and how legislation is created. (A friend who years ago was in charge of college admissions for a major university in the East routinely added "and college admissions" to this list as he talked about the challenges of accepting 6,000 from the 60,000 applicants).

With two weeks of instruction and one week of final exams left, I would add this semester in my freshman class to that list. We are coming in for a landing one way or another. It may be a little like that plane landing on the Hudson River, but I'm no pilot like Sully. Somehow no two years ever end the same, one semester coming in for a soft three-point landing, while the other one finds the plane sliding all over the place and coming to a rest against the embankment called Winter Break or summer vacation.

Mostly it is about all that you don't get to. I have made a conscious decision to do what I must to ensure my students learn and succeed. This means we sometimes have to reread what I wish they already "got," and discuss further what I had hoped they knew and understood, and otherwise re-teach what I had taught. Everything takes exactly as long to teach as it takes to learn it.

They say the Russians often remarked that "at least the trains ran on schedule" when Stalin was in charge. Maybe we need to ask ourselves whom we admire most and should follow as an instructional exemplar: Stalin, who no doubt believed, as Machiavelli said, that it is "better to be feared than respected," or Washington who said, in response to another's complaint about the soldiers, that "we must take them as they are and make them into the men they need to become."

I go with Washington, of course. But it takes time, something I have little of in the remaining days of the semester. Fortunately, I have great faith in my students and know we will be fine, even though "the night is dark and [we] are far from home."

4 Responses to “We have begun our initial descent (and final approach toward finals)”

  1. I am sitting here, thinking about what we haven’t done yet, staring at the three weeks until winter break, wondering…can I jam all of this in and make it hang together?? And why do I still try these Evel Knievel classroom stunts?
    Very Likely (to-be-sporting-pedagogical-road-rash-over-the-holiday) in Lakewood…
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  2. I am SO agreeing with you about this time of the semester (especially for those of us who teach on semester schedules). So many things I wish we had gotten to do; so many things I now realize I didn’t say; and so, so many things they still don’t quite understand as well as I’d like. Makes me stop and check my priorities. What do I really want them to take away from this course?

  3. Thanks for this entry–I’m new to the profession and glad to know that even a veteran teacher faces some of the same doubts as to how exactly he’s going to bring about a smooth end to the semester. Clare
    p.s. Did Machiavelli really write that it is better to be feared than respected? Or was it “better to be feared than loved” (and even that’s a little out of context), but maybe I need to reread The Prince.

  4. Have you been watching my classes this semester? I love the analogy to the plane landing on the Hudson River. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

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