So what am I doing here?

From what I’d come to refer as the ell-jay, April 26 2002 edition. A very vivid early statement-of-intent. Without giving up too much, I’ve kept up with that student off and on, and to say that she’s successful as a professional is very much an understatement.

Linkrot deleted because 16-year-old writing, but a couple of links still work.

Every now and again, one needs to figure out what one is doing with their life.

I’m a teacher. The job title says “professor”, the PhD says “biophysics“, but sod all that. I’m a teacher, with a particular interest in science, and an even more specific interest in physics (and maybe chemistry if we decide that I need to turn tables at some point), but a teacher nonetheless.

I had one student in here a couple of days back trying desperately to understand RL circuits for an exam that day, and making apologies here and there because the exam she’s desperately studying for isn’t my exam, but she’s gotten no satisfaction or understanding from her professor of record. (No offense to that professor of record intended; sometimes learning styles and teaching styles don’t match up.) And my take is, apologies aren’t necessary as long as you understand that, as far as helping you get ready for an exam, I’m not going to be much good at helping there; but when you’re ready to understand how the inductor actually works, and how it fits in with a circuit that gets driven by alternating current, I can talk about that all week.

(When it comes to solving differential equations, though, I’m pretty useless. I need to get way better at my DE than I am right now.)

The student pulled her highest exam grade of the term; bully for her and stuff. That wasn’t the surprising thing, she’s dang smart and just hasn’t had occasion to learn the stuff, for the usual complex myriad of reasons. The surprising thing was the 12-pack of Code Red and the bag of sweet stuff she delivered as appreciation. “But you didn’t have to do that,” I protested wildly. “I wanted to,” she said. “You helped so much.”

Well, dammit, that’s why I’m here.

Teaching is what I do; it’s who I am; it’s what my vocation is. For some people, this gig is nothing more sophisticated than a job, the thing they do that pays the bills. For me, I borrow Ludlow Porch‘s line about being on the radio: “If anybody ever found out I’d do this for free, I’d be in Big Trouble.”

So I react with a great deal with horror and shock, as a natural reaction, every time somebody tells me what a great job I do around here and stuff. Well, duh. This is the thing I feel like I’m good at, in some measure. If I’m not doing this well, then there goes a fair majority of my reason for being.

(Tangent: I’ve thought about this a great deal; one could say that my shrug and “look, I’m just doing what I do” is a mock-humility thing, and I could see the argument. But it’s not. If somebody told me that I wrote well or that I did a protein preparation well or put together a good Magic deck, then I could react with some measure of pride; that’s not stuff I feel like I’m naturally good at. Then again, I did do a reading in church for Palm Sunday that got rave reviews from everybody and I shrugged that off too (prompting a brilliant comment from a guy I really ought to get to know better: “Look, Chuck, nobody’s saying you wrote the Scripture, they’re just saying you read it well…”) so there might be something to the idea after all. Anyway.)

What I’m finding remarkable, as I’m learning what it is to live out on a day-to-day basis being a teacher, is just how much I find myself caring about my students. And that shouldn’t surprise me, because I’ve almost cared more than the average guy; I still marvel at the shocked reactions of students in the recitations I taught at Ohio State who said “oh my God, you actually learned my name?” because the teachers on a big campus like that simply didn’t do such things. But even that wasn’t all that intense of a relationship except in rare circumstances, because those students I only saw in a class once a week, for ten weeks in a quarter. Here, it’s 15 weeks in a semester, and these students I see in class three times a week – and many of ’em live on campus besides.

And man, it gets intense. It’s not one of those rare circumstances of having a student once in one course, and then a couple of years later having them again in a second like it was at OSU. I start a physics sequence in the spring, and then many of those same students I’ll have in the second course in the fall…and a couple of non-major students I’ve had now three semesters running. And others, because of their proximity to me, just kind of hang around and ask more questions even though they don’t have me for class anymore, which is fine. If you hit it off with a student at one point, that relationship can plow all kinds of depths over the two-to-three semesters the relationship can go on. And the caring can go very deep indeed, particularly if the students opens himself up to it and engages me right back.

At some point on here I’m going to address how I get along (or don’t get along) with my fellow faculty members on this campus. Right now, suffice it to say that (and let’s call a spade a spade here) my best friends on this campus are much more likely to be my students than a fellow faculty member. This bothers me on some levels, but the one thing that it does do is motivate me (since I do have a good deal of knowledge about physics, the sciences, the academic path, such as that) to provide as much help as I can for them, because I care for them that deeply and I want to see them do the best they can for themselves. And if they haven’t gotten what they need out of this whole academic experience, I want to make sure that they do.

I started writing this journal entry nearly 72 hours ago, and have worked on it off and on while grading exam papers and sorting grades in preparation for finals-week. Like grading, I’m behind in getting it posted. Go fig.

…well, blast it, I’m going to start this thing for real now…

The first full entry on the old LiveJournal, and where my discipline of putting words on the internet in weblog form started in earnest. And it’s lasted through fits and starts.

One thing that stands out in how I saw myself at 30 years old was direct I was towards the end there about myself – my emotional crash the year before was a flashing neon sign that I had charged through life and not allowed my emotional development to catch up. In many ways, I never have. But I had forgotten that I’d allowed myself to admit that, so directly, so plainly.

The only thing I’ve changed here is how the links direct. In the original, one link is so rotten that it now points towards pr0n. Which link it is is not left as an exercise to the reader.

I’m going to start by telling you exactly who’s to blame for this thing. I’ll go in chronological order.

First, there was USENET. And in particular. I had no clue that I could do anything that even vaguely resembled quality writing until r.m.c. If you want to be entertained, you can do a Google search for me on that and other groups – try for funsies as well, although I refuse to go back there until Ariel returns…

Second, there was bev. I feel very privileged that she will, on occasion, actually allow me to call her that instead of Wednesday; you might try google-searching Wednesday on USENET too, she’s more prolific than I am. She writes like nobody’s business, and her peak was sometime around 1997, although some things pop into my box even now that utterly blow my mind. When I was trying to figure out what I believed and why, her writings drove the debate in my head. (Trust me, bev, that was a good thing.)

Third, there was Kevin Cabral (who I’m trying to find a web page on; gad, doesn’t anybody have home pages anymore? here, he got quoted on once on the subject of, whose demise I know way too much about). Kevin set up a little web site sometime around ’97 or ’98 called CrewFan, for fans of some little soccer team in central Ohio, and almost immediately (thanx to the crap I’d written on he started chasing after me to write for his little thing. I resisted him for a spell, then got pissed off at something (I think it was the stupid format of the MLS All-Star Game, or something like that) and wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more. And then finally took over the thing.

(And, by the way, words ought to be said here about keeno guys like Matt Bernhardt, Brian Guilfoos, Mike Cornell, and Chris Gallutia – guys who helped me with that endeavor when it was going great-guns. And then also about Lee Smith, who took the thing over when the Rivals thing went south, and then started organizing the evolution of the site to MatchNight, the best damn Yank soccer site on the planet, once I started going south – figuratively and literally. I’m glad a version of the thing that Kevin started back in the day is still going and evolving…and Lee (who has a business of his ownto run besides) deserves praise to the nines for all he’s done, very little besides the joy of that little labor of love…)

And fourth, there is a little dorm on this marvelous college campus where I work called Grace Hall. In that dorm there are students in a program called the Georgia Academy of Mathematics, Engineering, and Science, and I am insanely jealous of those students because I wanted something like that when I was a junior in high school and unable to take trig because I was the only one – junior OR senior – who signed up. Somewhere in that jealousy, I figured out that I hadn’t finished growing up yet and I needed some friends who were good and geeky like me, who cares that they were on occasion my students and stuff. It’s been strange, and at the same time incredibly gratifying – both on the personal level and on the academic level, in the ways that I have become something of a mentor to a few of ’em.

And a good many of them write journals (albeit on a rather sucky little site with way too many pop-ups – no, i’m NOT biased, honest, but this site rawks) and have let me in on them. And the journals of two students who were in the first trig-based physics class I taught here – Jesse and Nancy (as well as the students themselves; both are utterly remarkable people in their own right) – had enough of an impact on my thought process to make me think “you know, I’ve always written, and my life has always come into everything I’ve written, but I’ve never written much about myself.” (Well, in retrospect, I have on USENET, but even then it’s been in the context of Christian music and the r.m.c community, so.) So it’s time to give this a go.

That’s why I’m doing this again, this time – I think – for real.