New semester

I really like the beginning of the semester. The last week of Christmas break seemed to drag on forever because I was anxious to get started.

I liked the beginning of the school year when I was a child. Those times were associated with new clothes and new pencils and pencil boxes and getting to meet my new teacher. I still have a thing for pencils and pencil boxes, as well as fountain pens, but now the excitement of a new school term is harder to explain.

I like seeing new students. I had a good group last semester and it looks like I’ve got good students again this semester. But there is also something exciting about starting a new subject–or having the chance to explain an old subject, like the history of philosophy–again.

Yesterday I talked with the students in my overview of the history of modern philosophy about some of the medieval background to modern philosophy: Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham. I hope they learned something and enjoyed doing so, but I know that I had a great time, though it is hard to know just why I did. Is it that teaching has much in common with acting and I like performing? Was my pleasure like that of children, the enjoyment of repeating stories that we know well? There is something about starting a semester, when we all still have good intentions about what we will accomplish this time, that is exciting. After a month or so that initial bloom always fades, both for teacher and student, but the next semester I’m as eager to begin again as ever, even with courses I’ve taught year after year.

In other words, I feel sorry for those of you who have had to go on from school to careers. They have their pleasures, I’m sure, but I would hate to give up the pleasure of the new semester.

8 comments for “New semester

  1. Jim,

    I like the beginning of fall semester best, because the break has been longer, and the sense of beginning again is that much stronger. (You meet new freshman, for example, students that–a few of them, at least–might be regular parts of your classes, making them a part of your life and you a part of theirs.) But spring or fall, new classes are always an adventure, one I look forward to. Next Monday I’ll begin talking about Hobbes, and utilitarianism, and a dozen other things, and while it’ll wash like a wave over the heads of many of my students, a few of them will catch it like surfers, and ride with you on through the material, and watching them respond to you and take what you give further out into the open ocean is a great thrill, greater than any other I’ve ever had as an academic. I guess there’s a little bit of Mr. Chips in us all.

  2. I had a great professor with a fine sense of the drama of the lecture hall for Philosophy 105 my freshman year in college. I had gone to a lousy public high school in Tennessee, thought school was painfully boring, and had gone to college mostly because I thought that’s just what you do after high school. Phil. 105 was as life-transforming as anything that’s ever happened to me, and I remember that first September in Boston so clearly I can taste it. Opening a new notebook and writing on the first page (with a fountain pen, naturally!) can make me giddy and weepy with nostalgia. Despite being a dozen years out of school, I still mark time in semesters (though I don’t get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach around April 10 anymore, which is nice!)

  3. Glad to hear that Phil 105 was so good for you. I think it is one of the most important parts of the philosophy curriculum at BYU. But of course you would enjoy philosophy–you like to use a fountain pen!

  4. Kristine, I always mark time by semesters despite having graduate in ’94 as well. I’ve always thought that for a “new year” January was a particularly poor choice. Give me either the school year or the Jewish approach of around March or April.

    I always like any “new year” phenomena as it is a way to start over. A rebirth and rededication. However I’ve simply never done it for the winter semester. Perhaps that’s because in Canada the fall and winter semesters were much more unified with single classes spanning semesters. Perhaps its because I was so busy coming home New Year’s day to get ready for classes that I never really celebrated New Year’s. I don’t know. I recognize what Jim describes, but unlike April or September, January becomes less and less relevant the further I went away.

    Still I have made some New Year’s resolutions…

  5. That’s funny! I assumed that “Philosophy 105” meant “our” Philosophy 105–a good lesson on making assumptions. At BYU it is a freshman writing course taught in the philosophy department, a course on analyzing and writing arguments.

  6. At Boston U. it’s “Great Philosophers,” a quick romp through history of phil., but with no pretense of comprehensiveness, so that professors who teach the course have room to spend more time on their favorites, which I’ve thought since then is a particularly nice way to structure an intro. class so that neither professors nor students get bored.

Comments are closed.