Friday, January 13, 2012

Eyes (and windows) wide open

The low point of my week arrived on Wednesday when I got stuck in my car and had to beg a passing student for help. The seatbelt got jammed in the door so that it wouldn't close all the way or open at all, and I had to wonder which would be worse: to open the window and call out for help (inspiring a  whole new series of "How many PhDs does it take to open a car door?" jokes) or hunker down so no one could see me and then slowly starve to death, hoping that someday someone would discover my desiccated skeleton so it could be properly interred.

(Which for some reason reminds me of the wonderful opening of Jo Ann Beard's novel In Zanesville: "We can't believe the house is on fire. It's so embarrassing first of all, and so dangerous second of all. Also, we're supposed to be in charge here, so there's a sense of somebody not doing their job.")

Now where was I?

Oh yes: the low point of my week arrived when I had to open the window and call out to a passing student to help me open my car door, a moment I won't mention in my annual review. The student's willingness to rescue me, however, did reinforce the lesson provided by the high point of my week: "We're a residential campus for a reason. The campus is group work."

That line was part of a session at our annual all-day teaching workshop, which happened yesterday but required my full attention for most of the week (when I wasn't trying to maintain my dignity while helplessly stuck in my car). Colleagues from many disciplines led sessions on various methods of getting students to work effectively in groups, but my favorite moment arrived between sessions, when I was busy attending to some petty details while participants sat around chatting with each other and informally sharing their experiences using group work. I love the sound of colleagues getting together to make each other better teachers.

The opening session included a hands-on component, and I wish you could have seen a whole bunch of highly dignified college professors trying to build tents out of newspapers while blindfolded. Even with our eyes wide open we don't always realize how much we rely on each other, a lesson I'll surely remember next time I'm stuck in my car.

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