During the last week I’ve been girding my loins for the arrival of the new students. This is not altogether my favourite part of the year: lots of preparation of course booklets and websites and administration. I also get quite nervous about the term to come (I’ve even had an “exam dream” about trying not to fall off a cliff).
I’ll be much happier (I hope) during next week, when the students return – and, in the case of the freshers, arrive for the first time.
In fact, a lot of my year ahead will be concerned with students arriving at the university for the first time.
First of all, I have become a Director of Studies. Every undergraduate has one, and the role of the DoS is to help them to make their curricular choices, to advise about their work, and to try to help them or (more likely) to direct them towards other sources of help in the event of their getting into difficulty in any of the many ways people do. I have had training sessions to tell me about everything from counselling services to the rules governing changes of course, and have been given a very handy booklet called “Helping Distressed Students.” (I don’t think there is one called “Helping Distressed Lecturers”). And my directees are all of the first year students studying towards degrees in Classics or in Latin Studies. So I shall meet all these first years for one-to-one meetings next week. I’m looking forward to this: we don’t get as much opportunity as would be ideal to talk to students one-to-one about their work and their conception of their academic careers as a whole (rather than the individual courses one might be involved with). And as of now, I shall try to ensure that my office always has biscuits and a box of tissues.
Secondly, I shall be teaching the course in Beginners’ Greek. This is (in my opinion) the most important course we offer. It enables us to give a proper training in classics and the capacity to read ancient texts in their proper language in a world in which very few students can learn Greek at school. Here in Scotland we are at an advantage (compared with English universities), because we have our students for four years. I have taught Greek for beginners before, but not in this university. Here too I shall be seeing lots of our new first years. I’ll be meeting them for three hours every week, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings (on Thursday they will have teaching in smaller groups, not with me). I know from experience that this kind of class is quite intimate and depends a lot on developing a good rapport. It’s really classroom teaching, i.e. the much more difficult sort of thing our colleagues in schools do all the time, but we don’t do anything like as much. A good classroom vibe, and it will be enormous fun for me, and for them, and everything will go well.
And thirdly, I am teaching a postgraduate course to Masters students on Greek Lyric. This is bang in the middle of my research interests and my favourite part of Greek poetry. The Masters course is one year long, so all students are new students (new PGs, even if they studied in Edinburgh before). I don’t know how many they will be or what they will be like. Given all this, I have made a deliberate decision, not out of laziness but in order to be able to tailor the course to the students I get, that I shall not decide a curriculum in advance. I’ve prepared an assignment for them for the first week, and then I’ll see where to go from there. With a bit of luck, and the right kind of work on my part, this will be hugely stimulating for me as much as for them, and will help me to work out what I want to work on when my book about Simonides is finished.
So a huge proportion of the term is all about the people about to arrive, and whether I can find the right way to relate to them and to help them to work and learn.
Fingers crossed – and wish me luck!