Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

It is Sunday evening and I am going over my notes for my Monday classes. Our last class meeting was last Wednesday. On that day, we did something in class that I have not done in 15 years of teaching - as a group, we "skipped" class and went to a local coffee shop. Why did we do this?

The shock of the Virginia Tech incident was fresh and unprocessed in all our minds. We had been together in class when those events unfolded on Monday morning though we did not know what was happening at the time. We stood in the hall outside our classroom and pondered the proverbial list of "what ifs". Despite the memo that faculty and students received on Wednesday outlining details concerning "Dealing With Violent Intruders On Campus", we all know that safety is not a guarantee. Though I have never felt unsafe on our campus, random acts of violence, just like random acts of kindness, are always possible.

Another reason for skipping class is that the anxiety level of the students at this time of year is quite high. Because I teach at the junior college level, the sophomore sequence courses that I teach are the last courses that many of these students will take before transferring to a four-year school. The transfer process, with its applications, auditions, and placement exams takes a toll on the students.

Over coffee we talked about their goals, about their families, about fears, about success, about failure, about shaping and reshaping dreams, about learning, about teaching, about despair, about hope, about local concerts, and about good coffee.

At one point during our discussion, one of my students stopped and said, "Do you do this at the end of the semester for all of your classes?" I had to confess that I had never done this before. Sure, at times I have talked of some of these topics with other classes but always as an aside to the lesson (as stated on the syllabus) of the day. When I admitted that this coffee shop meeting was a first, the student said, "Too bad. This is the most helpful class I have had since I have been here." Don't take this the wrong way. I don't think that he was saying that he did not benefit from what he was learning in the classroom. The message was that sometimes a teacher may have the greatest impact on a student when they dare to stray from the syllabus, their "field of expertise", and in our case, the classroom itself.

Though our outing did not count as a field trip, I think that the value of drinking coffee together was greater than any of us may have realized at the time and on that day was more important than what I had planned to do in class. I am grateful for the freedom to be spontaneous. And, I am grateful for the opportunity to know each of these students.

So, I prepare my lessons for tomorrow knowing that if I am called to teach beyond what I have prepared I will do my best. Over time, I have learned to be open to the present moment. I prepare tonight in the present; however, when I get to school in the morning this will be the past and a new present moment will be at hand - a present that I will embrace and do my best to live in to.