Final Office Hours Reflection

It’s the end of RRR (“Reading, Recitation, Review”?) week here at Berkeley.  I’ve spent the past 48 hours parked in front of my computer screens, finishing up my science and technology paper and generally feeling pretty drained of all coherent thought.  End of the semester brain, am I right?

I finished grading my student’s final papers before turning my attention to my own, so I decided to hold one last office hours session so they could come pick their papers up.  So far, most of the students who have showed up for their papers have also wanted to discuss the course, their feelings towards the study of history and also (and most flattering!) ask me for advice.

Teaching has been everything I expected and simultaneously entirely different from what I thought it would be.  I went into teaching having been told that architecture students don’t care about history, don’t care about this course, and will do anything they can to avoid doing the work.  I think that assumption is the result of our brain’s ability to hold onto negative events and impressions more so than positive ones.  Or, perhaps I just had a great bunch of students who did want to be there and did care about improving their work over the semester.

The second expectation that this semester shattered was the view of teaching as a secondary, lesser obligation that comes behind research.  This is a strongly held doctrine in academia: you can teach anyone to teach, but you can’t teach anyone to do original, compelling research.  Even if this is true (I’m not sure if I believe that anyone can teach) it teaches graduate students and young professors to devalue experiences in the classroom and ignore the positive benefits of becoming invested in the education of their students.

It’s true that some students don’t care, but you don’t teach for those students.  You teach for the ones who are interested and engaged, the ones who want to learn something and broaden their minds.

Gosh, that’s a little cheesy.  But I’m sticking by it!

I’m excited to teach the second half of the survey next semester.  It’ll be wonderful if I have some of the same students in my section, especially if I can snag the ones who like to talk during discussion.   Till then, I’m excited to spend a few weeks not having to learn and teach something new every week. Winter break, here I come.



Let it be known up front that I am VERY caffeinated right now.

BUT!  I am excited about several things that I feel compelled to share.

1.  I have, at last, found a new topic for my Unbuilt paper.  And it’s exciting.  And I get to watch movies as part of my research.  This is rad.

2. I’ve narrowed my argument for my STS paper.

3. Both of those topics are related to my larger research interests (HUZZAH!)

4. As a result, my research is seriously exciting to me right now.

5. My students are turning in the rough draft of their papers today.  I only got ONE request for an extension! I’m such a proud GSI.  My students, KIND OF THE BEST.  They totally listened to me when I told them to start their papers early.  Either that or I just got a bunch of students who already have good time management skills.

In other, list-related news, I’ve started lessons at the Berkeley Ballet Theater (lead with your heels!) so a post about that is forthcoming.  I’ve been calling my mom once a week (on Tuesdays).  And I think my week without complaining will start Sunday.  Awww yeah.

Pile of Books

I have an extremely bad habit of coming up with something that, to me, sounds like a GREAT IDEA, ordering a ton of books on it, forgetting about it* over the course of the next day/week, and then getting an email notifying me to come and pick up books that I cannot remember why I wanted to read.

So I pick them up anyway and add them to my pile.  Will I ever get through this pile?  Will I ever remember why I wanted to read these books in the first place?


* Sometimes I forget about it because it only seemed like a good idea at the time, and after some thought it’s actually not so great.  But the books still seem interesting and I’m always hopeful that they will lead to a better idea.. if I ever get around to picking them up.

“That’s so Berkeley”

I knew before I even moved here that Berkeley had a reputation, to say the least.  Or, as Steven Colbert put it, “that slow food, locavore, patchouli, super-fund granola dump site, hippie haven UC Berkeley.”

Or, according to Fox news, communist Berkeley!

This morning I was at Trader Joes.  It was early; I was hungry and interested in getting in and out before someone decided to go to work on my bike’s u-lock.  The cashier took my items and then asked me what I had been doing.  I’m not exactly at my wittiest at eight am on a sunday morning, so I replied “Uh, grocery shopping?”

He paused, looked me deep in the eyes and said “No, I mean, what have you been doing with your life?”

I talked with him about school (I was wearing my favorite baggy Cal shirt) and then asked him if he liked being a cashier.  He said that it was an awesome job because he got to meet and understand new people all day long.

After tossing my backpack over my shoulders and mounting my bike, I realized what a strange conversation we’d just had.  I couldn’t imagine the cashier at Shop-Rite in my suburban New Jersey hometown asking me anything other than if I wanted paper or plastic, let alone ask me what my life’s passion was.

I was walking with a friend after dinner last week when someone came up to us on the street and asked for his leftovers.  Earlier that same day I’d seen a shirtless man running down the street, periodically letting out loud, caveman-esque yells.  The day before a street preacher attracted a huge crowd, including this girl:

Things that reinforced the hippie cliche used to stand out in my memory.  Whenever I’m struggling to explain something that happened here to a friend, I usually wind up defaulting to just saying that it’s so “Berkeley”.  Yes, the bakery carries gluten-free cookies, and people say hello to you on the street, and it’s not uncommon to see a ukelele/flute duet playing for the hoards of students migrating down Telegraph.

But there’s also the amazing gardens.  Did you know that almost nobody here has a front lawn?  Everyone has a garden, and not just a garden but a GARDEN, a fabulous combination of japanese maple and lamb’s ear and succulents and jasmine and a gate covered in sweet-smelling wisteria.  If you don’t have cash for your morning coffee, the guy at the counter will tell you to forget about it with a smile.  Want to cross a busy road?  Just start walking into the crosswalk.  The cars won’t even honk, they’ll just calmly roll to a stop until you set foot on the other side.

I can’t decide if I like using “Berkeley” as an adjective.  It’s so all-encompassing and still doesn’t manage to cover exactly how I feel about why this town is different.  Calling it a “liberal, hippie haven” doesn’t even come close; I’ve never lived in a place more accepting of people’s individuality, more passionate, more emotional and caring.

So I’ll watch the news and smirk when Berkeley is used as an example of the extreme left, and keep my own definition of Berkeley in mind.