One of the things about academic life is that it moves to its own rhythm. New Years day is an artifact of the common calendar and has fairly little meaning to me; (and Rosh ha Shona we barely notice). What’s more, as transatlantic flights tend to be cheaper on Dec. 31, we have slept through the stroke of midnight, jet lagged, for almost every one of the past ten years. I can’t remember the last time I went to a New Year’s Party, nor can I imagine how I’d get a sitter even if I were not jet lagged.
No, the real start of the year in this household is around now, when the kids go back to school, and when we have our first classes of the academic year.
My first Administrative Law class is 8am today (Monday). Last week I posted my assignments for both my classes. But if the past is a guide, fewer than half the students will admit having seen them. (Perhaps they’re afraid of being called on.)
Meanwhile, I get to enjoy the first fruits of one of the assignments I always use to start the semester. For my Internet Law class, I have asked every student to send me a paragraph about themselves with contact information plus whatever they’d like me to know about them, and paragraphs have started dribbling in. (In Administrative Law, we’ll do that in class some time around the end of the add-drop period as Administrative Law seems more subject to turnover.) Our students have interesting–and in some cases, rather harrowing–lives.
I have always had great trouble learning names by heart (any proper names, including case names), but I find it easy to remember facts; having facts about people helps me overcome my name-learning handicap, although not enough. But I’d ask for the paragraph even if I were good at names. Other than seminars, even my smaller classes tend to be around 30 people, and this year it looks as if they’ll be more in the 40-60 range. At that size, it’s difficult to get to know many students as people. In addition to being intrinsically interesting, the paragraphs give me a big jump start.