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Note #127: Spring (semester) begins (2019.3.12)

The first week of classes for the spring semester is in the books, and today I had what I often think of as my first “real” classes. Not that last week was a figment of my imagination or anything (at least, I don’t think it was), but the first week is the add/drop period, which makes it difficult to start anything as students are still coming and going. Last week was overall a good week as far as classes are concerned, although it was a pretty miserable week in terms of air quality. It was so bad on Monday morning that the little face icon on my AQI app was wearing a gas mask. Air quality did gradually improve as the week progressed, but the promised “green” (meaning an AQI rating of 50 or less, qualifying for a “good” rating) Saturday never did materialize. HJ and I had a long walk planned, and we went through with it, but we were very disappointed to find that the air quality was merely “not horrible.” (That’s not an actual rating, of course.) The air quality this week started off fairly miserable as well, and I wore my mask to school this morning, but as I type this the air is the cleanest it’s been in weeks, which improves my mood considerably

But back to classes. Although things have just gotten started, I’m feeling fairly positive. For one, I seem to have fewer students this semester than I normally have. I usually end up with about 50 students in my undergraduate class, but at the moment I officially have 42—I say “officially” because students have yet to show up to class, which is generally a sign that I will not see them until a few weeks into the semester, when they come to my office asking me to sign a special form to allow them to drop the class after the official add/drop period. So I very well might end up with exactly 40 students this semester, which would be the fewest students I’ve ever had in this class since the first semester I taught it. On the one hand, I will admit that I did feel a little twinge of surprise and perhaps even disappointment at not having students lining up to get into a class already bursting at the seams (the official class limit is 40 students), but forty is a much more manageable number than fifty, and I’m hoping that a smaller class will mean more interaction with each of the students I do have. Of course, this is all relative. Forty is still a lot of students.

In the graduate seminar I ended up with seven students who are officially registered and three more students auditing. This is also fewer students than I’ve had in past seminars, but it is a good number, and it looks like a good group of students (although I can’t say I’ve ever had a bad group of students in a seminar), so I’m looking forward to an interesting semester. Unlike my undergraduate class, which is aimed mostly at foreign and exchange students who come from all departments and majors, the graduate seminars are filled mostly with students from our department. The former tends to be lecture-driven out of necessity, while the latter are much more interactive and student-driven. It generally takes a little while for the students to warm to the way I run my seminars (I try to act more as a facilitator and moderator, while the students take the lead in presentation and discussion), but once they get the hang of things, they seem to enjoy it. Today’s class was probably the closest that I ever get to a lecture in my seminars, as I established the theoretical groundwork for our topic for the semester, but I also tried to solicit as much feedback and participation from the students as I could. It is always a little difficult at first; in the early part of the semester, I sometimes feel like I am pulling hard on the halter to drag a horse to pasture, but after a few weeks I sometimes feel like I am simply holding on for dear life as the horse gallops wildly across the plains. There is a perception of Korean students as being good at rote memorization but not so great at tasks that require creativity and independence, but my experience has shown me that, if students are encouraged properly and provided with an environment in which they can shine, they will in fact shine. This may not be true of every student, of course, but the cream always rises to the top.

So, we shall see how the semester goes. We are still at that stage before anticipation gives way to reality (I met a colleague from Anthropology on my walk home yesterday, and she described this period as “an exciting new time”), but I expect things to go well. Class is likely to be the bright spot for me this semester, as I have a lot of other things on my plate that are going to make life very busy and stressful. It’s only March, and I’ve already come to the realization that my schedule is overloaded for the year. I think I’ll be OK if I manage to stay on top of things, but I foresee some crunch time in the future. For now, though, the wheels of the semester are beginning to turn, and I’m a little distracted by all the meetings as various committees and councils start to spin up again after the winter slumber. It will be nice when everything gets up to speed and I can settle into the semester properly.

Send me your thoughts.

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