First day of the semester in the pleasant hills. I start the semester right with ye olde carefully setting my alarm for pm and not am trick, but my daughter saves me with a, “Papa, I thought we were getting up early?” She is up early because the new early morning plan involves dropping her at a friend’s house en route to my 8am class. Saved by friendship.
Through the tunnel and into the hills, I pull into the near-empty lot and fish out my new parking permit. This is Tuesday/Thursday so I use the maroon one. On Monday/Wednesday, at my other community college, I will use…what is it? Oh great, a different shade of maroon. I am marooned in Spring 2015. I stagger off to my office, sliding door, press the button on the heater. It works! Ah, lap of luxury.
A few minutes to 8, I trot to my room, entering it for the first time. In K-12 education, your room is your room. You set it up and wait for the class to come to you. In higher ed, you arrive with or after the students. Later in the day, you wait for a class to file out and an instructor to pack up, before you file in and unpack. You look around, take stock, and make do. I often set out my materials, write something on the board and then sit there looking dopey until class begins.
This morning I venture a strong, “Good morning!” and am almost flipped over Peanuts style by the rousing response. They haven’t learned to ignore me yet. Later, as we are about to begin a partner activity, I have them turn and introduce themselves. It is as if I have flipped a switch; the room erupts into friendly chatter. Building community with this class will be a breeze.
After class one, my students file out, some lingering to ask me questions. One student tells me her English is a little weak but that she has taken such an such ESL class and is a hard worker. I will need to assess her next class. Another student waits ’til all have gone to point out an assignment on the schedule, for next week, and say, “I’m not sure I know how to do a Critical Response. I’m straight out of high school…graduated last month.” I explain to her what it will be and reassure her that I will go over all that in class.
“No one knows what a Critical Response is,” I tell her. I don’t add, not even me.
She smiles, seems relieved, and heads out.
My next class is three doors down, which is a bit ridiculous. I pack up my stuff, head over, walk into a room half filled with students and venture another, “Good morning!” If the first class responded with a 10, these guys give me a 6 back.
As in the first class, I spend most of the 80 minutes introducing the class, firming up the roster and checking with the students on the waitlist. I keep a running count at the bottom of my roster: Students Missing 6. I cross it out each time one of them straggles in and write the new number. The later they were, the harder it was to park, and so the later they are. At one point I ask them all to share their parking tricks. One lanky guy in a warm hat gives away his secret spot near the 7-11.
I suggest we all buy him a slurpee.
When I am down to about 3 student no-shows and halfway through the class, I start to hit a rhythm…literally. I produce a set of speakers from my backpack and plug them into my laptop. I tell them, “Two weeks ago, I was putting the finishing touches on my end of year music mix and it suddenly dawned on me that creating a mix is much like writing an essay.” I begin to play songs for them and describe the process. The first song I put on, by Alt-J, belts out this line,
Hey Shady Baby, come on…
I talk about the prewriting phase where you’re just listening to music (reading) and throwing together all the songs of interest, even dumping in whole albums (freewrite). I talk about the rough draft phase where you’re glancing at the assignment and making the easy cuts and wrestling it into some sort of form. I tell them, if nothing else, to know that all the initial writing they do is just to find what the essay is really about, to identify the spark, the idea, the point and then start over with that.
I tell them it took me a while to find the song that would be the heart of my mix. I blast “How We Be” by Sinkane and watch some feet start tapping. I tell them this song began to suggest a direction for me. I talk about how my assignment may be to craft a mix with songs from 2014, but that I won’t know my theme until I sort through everything I’ve put in there and find what works, what connects, and what I want to say/play. I talk about audience and play the first lines of St. Vincent’s “Birth in Reverse”:
Oh what an ordinary day
Take out the garbage, masturbate
I’m still holding for the laugh
I tell them I play my mixes a lot for and with my kids and that, considering that audience, I was not comfortable with these lyrics for this audience. I tell them I might use this song in a different mix with a different audience. I swapped it for the song “Digital Witness” with the refrain:
People turn their TV on it, it looks just like a window
Around this time, the door pops open and a tall, incredibly young seeming guy lopes in. “Where can I set this?” he says, indicating a huge black, rectangular case he is carrying (keyboard?). I show him and ask him his name.
I check the roster and, sure enough, there it is: Miles Davis. All I can mutter in response is, “Whoa!” I show him the last empty desk and he sits down. In the back row, two friends who took my class last semester, exchange a look and giggle. I wonder irrationally, for a nanosecond, if they’ve planned the whole Miles Davis Episode.
At this point I forget to go on and mention the importance of one track leading perfectly to another track (transitions) or how I searched to find the perfect intro: “Jackie and Wilson” by Hozier, which comes in with the sound of two drumsticks ticking together: tick tick tick tick…
This is how my semester begins.