It’s not the students I dread, however. I like students. Even freshmen. We keep some boarders, and as they drift back into our orbit I like to ask them what they read over the summer. Or intended to read.
They have great stories and high expectations. College may be their last experience with fresh starts, which began with new crayons in first grade. All their life the fall has been a chance to start over. It’s easy to wish them well.
It’s not the teaching I dread either. I’m always choosing new textbooks and looking for new resources. All summer I’ve been reading about the things I teach, trying to understand them better.
This summer I’ve been reading Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little,a hot new book by linguist and professional namer Christopher Johnson. He writes about the techniques for writing briefly but well, twitter updates and advertising slogans for example. My advertising students need to understand this. So do I.
So, no, it’s not the teaching I dread. Or even the administrative aspects of my job. I like to create or improve new programs. I’m even getting a handle on program assessment, which isn’t too bad once you turn it into a game.
But the all-day faculty meetings? Well, those I dread. One year I even scheduled a colonoscopy so I wouldn’t have to go. But thankfully this year they avoided the thing I most fear. Matching t-shirts.
Seriously, I wouldn’t get up in the morning and put on a t-shirt unless I was going to work on a sewer or something. I keep a couple around for just that sort of work, but typically it’s not something I wear. So when they practically made us put them on one year, so we could be on color-coded teams, I almost went home.
In my view, unintentional community is pretty cool. People share goals and stories and then serendipity happens. They laugh and enjoy the connections they had not expected. But forced community? I’m no fan.
Or of teams generally. I realize I was hardly ever picked in elementary school. And a high school PE teacher once told some kids if they didn’t shape up he would put me on their team. So I’m not a fan of teams, even though my kindergarten teacher said I played well with others.
(Not really. I didn’t go to kindergarten. I started first grade a year early, which explains why no one wanted the little kid on their team and by third grade I didn’t want to be on their team either.)
But you get the idea. I don’t mind working with others. Or playing either. I just don’t want to wear the same t-shirt you do. Yes, it’s my problem. But I don’t want to look like you or be like you, because it’s our differences that provide room for growth and grace.
As much as community may depend on common goals and values, it is best experienced when we celebrate achievements that arise from our varied perspectives and contributions. It’s our differences for which we need each other.
Fortunately there were no t-shirts this year. The perfect t-shirt, after all, is the one you don’t have to wear. And neither was there too much manufactured enthusiasm or needless repetition, the bane of corporate meetings everywhere.
It was a good start, actually, in spite of some bad news. Headwinds, the president of the university called them. The challenges facing higher education today need not be enumerated here. But he handled the news about our own challenges with more transparency and humility than any college president I’ve known, and I’ve worked for a half dozen others.
I was glad to have a sense that an adult was in charge. I was happy no one tried to turn it into a party, or worse, summer camp. And I was even happier that no one expected me to wear a t-shirt.
The community we need will have to be much deeper than that.