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A week in the life

May 9, 2008

It's been spring in earnest for weeks now here: first the daffodils and tulips emerged everywhere, then the flowering trees went crazy, and this week the bank of azaleas in the Rice Hall courtyard exploded into masses of fuchsia. The accepted students who visited during an almost unbroken string of nice weather in April got to see Oberlin at its best.

The downside is that April and early May are so busy that there isn't always time to take advantage of the season. The semester starts hurtling toward its conclusion, and various projects that students have been working on for months reach culmination. It's a little dizzying sometimes, though also exhilarating. Alice and Will have already written about this, but in case you're curious about how it looks from a faculty perspective, I thought I'd provide a quick overview of the work I was doing in a recent week.

1. This semester I was teaching two courses: Modern British and Irish Fiction (mainly for sophomores and first-year students) and a course on the work of Vladimir Nabokov (for juniors and seniors). I love the material in both, but preparing for fiction classes always takes me more time than drama or poetry, so teaching two fiction courses at once has been intense. In the week in question I was teaching Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Nabokov's Pale Fire--two complex and difficult twentieth-century masterpieces, so it doesn't get much better than that--but they definitely posed a challenge. Fortunately, both these classes are full of lively, imaginative students, and I think they rose to the challenge with aplomb.

2. I was also scrambling to write a review of a recent collection of essays on British political drama in the 1990s for Modern Drama, the leading journal in the field. Somehow I'd left it until the last minute, so I had to stay up quite late a couple of nights in a row, but I managed to get it done (just barely) by the deadline, and fortunately the editor was pleased with it. I took on the assignment hoping I'd learn something from the book, since I'll be teaching a contemporary British and Irish drama class in the fall--and I found a good deal that I think will be useful to me.

3. I met a couple of times with the English honors student I've been supervising all year on a thesis about poetic space (by which he meant both the context that defines what "poetry" is and the literal space of the page, the visual element of the poem); he was fine-tuning his final draft before turning the thesis in to be read and evaluated by his faculty committee. (He had an oral exam by the committee the following week, and I was not surprised that it went very well.) I also met with the two senior students who have been doing independent playwriting projects with me this semester. These independent projects are very labor-intensive, involving about an hour a week for each one-on-one (or, in the second case, two-on-one) meeting, but we think this sort of independently organized project is a valuable capstone to the liberal arts experience for many students.

4. The English Department had two candidates on campus to be interviewed for teaching positions next year in replacement of colleagues who will be on sabbatical leaves; I had dinner with each of them, attended their lectures, and then took part in a department meeting to discuss them.

5. I had conferences with each of my first-year advisees (I'd seen the sophomores and juniors the previous week) to discuss their plans for classes to take in the fall. Students are required to talk with their advisors before registering, though the ultimate responsibility for choosing courses wisely and making progress toward fulfilling graduation requirements falls on the student. We give students a good deal of freedom, but we also try to balance it with informed advice. I enjoy the process of advising, though again, it adds to the crunch time when registration falls in the middle of April.

6. And then there's all the other miscellaneous work. I helped judge two student poetry prizes for the English Department. I met with two colleagues to do a random sampling of our senior majors' transcripts to study their patterns of course selection. I helped the Department prepare for the visit of the committee of visitors who are evaluating Oberlin in the re-accreditation process that takes place every ten years. I met with juniors who are starting to think about applying in the fall for the Watson Fellowship, for which I'm the Oberlin advisor. And I met with students who were beginning to brainstorm their final papers for my courses and wanted to discuss their plans.

There's probably more, but you probably get the idea. Whew! It's a hectic time, though ultimately all this investment of time and energy pays off. And fortunately summer is just around the corner.

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