Today is the first day of classes of my 19th year of teaching at the college level (kinda…I’m not counting TAing for a few classes as a masters student at the University of Denver). I’m still nervous (always am), but not as much as in the past. I feel…ready…? I guess…?

For the first time in…ever, I think…?…I’ve got a three-day-a-week schedule, both of my actual classes meeting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I’m sure this means that Tuesdays and Thursdays will be completely fr offer big chunks of time for resea quickly fill up with meetings. But for now, it’s looking pretty manageable.

Today’s order theory class is going to start off with some basic exploration of the idea of order and some play with Hasse diagrams. Meanwhile, in voting theory the students are going to be asked to invent and implement “ideally just” voting systems in order to hold an election for their favorite among several ice cream flavors; it’s a noncontroversial way to start off what’s sure to be a contentious semester.

Let me close this post with an anecdote about my favorite first day of class ever, opening day for the first-semester calculus course I taught as a grad student at Vanderbilt in the fall of 1999: I was young enough then to pass for one of the undergrads in the class (still there but for a few (thousand) grays hairs and prominent crow’s feet), and I took advantage of this by showing up early enough for the eight-o’clock class to be sure of getting there first, taking a seat in the middle of the room and not at the front.

About five minutes after I got there, the first actual enrollee arrive, a young woman whose name I still remember. Belinda (let’s call her) was bubbly and outgoing and kind. She brightly introduced herself to me, and we chatted for a bit until the next students arrived. As each new person entered the room, Belinda introduced herself to them, and her welcome helped everyone else feel at ease and fall into a pleasant conversation. (It also helped me to learn everyone’s names; this was back before I had an electronic list, with pictures, ahead of time.)

The bell rang (yes, we really had a bell in Stevenson Center) and the class fell silent. Where was the teacher? Everyone looked around at one another, squirming slightly in their seats. “Um…what now?” the students began to ask. “Like, how long do we have to wait?”

After two or three minutes, by which time I worried people were going to start to get up and go, I stood, sighing, and slung my stuff on the table at the front of the room. “I guess I’ll go ahead and take it over.” There was laughter. Poor Belinda turned a bright, bright red. (Unsurprisingly, she would end up being one of the best students in the class.)

I think it was the following term that I pretended that I had arrived to teach an introductory Hebrew course (and not Calc II). I don’t remember any of my other pranks, but I’m pretty sure I pulled one at the start of every semester for a couple of years. It’s been a while.

Maybe I should try that again? Except I already know about three quarters of the students in both of my classes this term…

To all of you beginning a fresh new year today, best of luck! Learn a lot, don’t agonize over grades, and be well with one another. We’re all here for the same reason.



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