Oberlin Blogs

Endgame. And after.

May 13, 2011

Prof. David Walker ’72

The end of classes is always as disconcerting to me as the beginning. One minute I'm passing out syllabi and scrambling to learn everyone's name, the next minute I'm handing out course evaluation forms and explaining how to turn in final papers. It's not as though I didn't see the end coming, it's just impossible to fathom how it arrived so fast.

That's always especially true in the spring semester, the second half of which is even more crammed with extracurricular events than the rest of the year. Last week, for instance, I gave two English honors exams, saw a Kander and Ebb musical, enjoyed a fiction reading by a favorite former student, heard a fantastic oboe recital, went to a senior fiction reading, had coffee with two visiting alums--and still had to miss two other alumni concerts I'd have loved to hear (sorry, Will and Alex), simply because there wasn't enough time. The last month has been more or less like that, all on top of teaching my classes, holding office hours, meeting with private reading students, carrying out departmental business, and so on. Not that I'm complaining--all this activity is something of a rush, and frequently exhilarating--but there's a good deal of it, and the pace is relentless.

And then suddenly it ends. We're not quite at the finish line yet: this weekend my playwriting students are presenting staged readings of the one-act plays they've written as the culminating projects in our workshop, and the final papers for my Modern British and Irish Fiction course aren't due until next Friday, after which will follow the inevitable grading marathon. But a couple of hours ago I taught my last class of the semester--and, as I always do, I'm experiencing a bit of a seismic shift as I reimagine life at a more leisurely pace, without the structure of classes to organize my time. I'll miss my students, I'll also miss the experience of teaching them, and I hate saying goodbye. A more angsty sort might call it an existential mini-crisis.

On the other hand, two words: Summer. Vacation.

And fortunately there's much to look forward to. A week after graduation, I'm taking off for three weeks in London, where a colleague and I are leading the alumni theater tour that I've written about before. And once I get back, for the next seven months I'll be on sabbatical leave, working on an editing project which I expect to be lots of fun. (I'll save talking about it for a future post, when I'll know more about it than I do yet.)


My post last summer talked about the Oberlin-in-London program, one of the most dynamic and potentially rewarding programs that Oberlin offers. My colleague Marc Blecher (of the politics department) and I will be teaching on the program next spring, and I've spent much of this year obsessing about, planning, and recruiting for it. Marc and I have taught the program together three times previously, so it's not as though we're starting from scratch, but we haven't wanted to take anything for granted, so we worked hard to get the word out to interested students. Marc's side of the program will study the issue of class in relation to politics, gender, race, and the economy, and he was looking primarily for politics, economics, history, and sociology majors. My curriculum, intended primarily for English, creative writing, and theater majors, will focus on British modernism and on London theater. Given the many options open to students who want to study abroad, we wanted to be sure they understood what makes this program so distinctive.

Unlike many other programs abroad, which can emphasize the experience of travel without much serious academic content, the Oberlin-in-London program is intended to challenge and stimulate its students intellectually. It's designed to make extensive use of the amazing resources available in one of the world's greatest cities, but it also aims to build the students' analytical and expressive skills, and to inform their sense of British culture and society. As part of our recruitment effort, I put together a file of former students' testimonials to the life-changing potential of the program, and posted it on the program website--frankly, I can't imagine someone reading those blurbs and not wanting to study on the program!

Fortunately, our efforts paid off. There was a tremendous amount of interest, and the applicant pool was large and strong. It says a good deal about Oberlin students that so many were interested in making this sort of academic commitment. The downside was that we had a very difficult time making our decisions: almost all those who applied were students we'd have been more than happy to take with us, but the size of the program is limited to 25 to keep the logistics manageable and the classes intimate.

A couple of weeks ago, we got the group together over pizza to begin to get to know each other, and they were as lively and engaged as we could possibly have hoped for. They're excited about the adventure that lies ahead, and personally I feel as though I've won the lottery yet again. I've been very lucky in the students I've taken to London in the five previous times I've taught on the program, but this seems to be as strong a group as I've ever had. Teaching on the program is really demanding, but--as I said in that earlier post--it can also be terrifically rewarding: good students make it all worthwhile. Honestly, I can't wait to get there.

If only we could get time to speed up a bit....

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