It's the first day of school.
I'm beginning my twelfth year as a full-time faculty member here at PCC, my thirteenth overall. For the thirty-sixth consecutive year, I'm starting some sort of school in August or September. It all began in 1970 at the Humpty Dumpty Nursery School, and since then, I've never taken as much as a single semester away from organized education; I've either been a registered student or a paid teacher every year since I was three years old.
Most folks are familiar with the oft-repeated notion that school at any level is not the "real world." For years, I've held the opposite to be true. Indeed, I find the community college in particular to be a lot more "real" an environment in which to teach and learn than most places. Where else will you regularly encounter such an extraordinary cross section of American society? A high-rise corporate office, filled with the well-groomed and the comfortable, is surely far less "real" than a classroom filled with recent immigrants, recovering alcoholics looking for a thirty-ninth chance, ambitious high schoolers anxious to get ahead, and more than a dozen different native languages! If what we mean by the "real world" is a place where one encounters an authentic representation of who populates this country, I'm not clear that many places are more "real" than an urban community college!
On the other hand, I accept that my working conditions are not the "real world". I'm incredibly lucky to have tenure with all its perks: academic freedom, free health insurance, and so forth. I don't take what I have for granted, and indeed, am anxious to see the conditions under which I labor expanded to include more and more academics, rather than fewer and fewer.
On other fronts, I've been told that there's a standing offer from the folks at Stand Your Ground to pay the course fees for any "student mole" who enrolls in my women's studies course and transcribes what goes on. I have long welcomed my students to tape-record my lectures, and would be delighted if one of them could make some extra money doing so. And let's face it; professors get tired of "preaching to the choir" from time to time; as long as they are not grossly uncivil, I am delighted to have the suspicious, the hostile, and the profoundly reactionary in my classes. Those sorts of students often ask the best and most thoughtful questions.
Dare I ask if the SYG fellas will extend the offer to a student in my Lesbian and Gay American History class?
And lastly, I am wearing a French blue Ralph Lauren shirt with Polo khakis and a Brooks Brothers "repp" tie. Out of a keen sense of tradition, I always wear a tie to the first class meeting of the year, and then never again. By week three, I'll be in jeans and t-shirts, but on the first day it seems appropriate to "spiff up" a bit for the class. The ritual of putting on the tie during the first week helps remind me of the responsibility I have to the some 280-300 young and not-so-young people whom I will be asked to teach for the next sixteen weeks. Whether or not the students are amused by the inevitable shift from ties to t-shirts over the course of the first month, I know not.
I do know that it's the first day of school, and like every other first day of school going back to those days at Humpty-Dumpty, I am pleasantly nervous. Unlike in 1970, however, I have not yet wet my pants in excitement. But the morning is still young.