Summer has come and passed, at least here in Prince Edward Island. As the unofficial farmer’s almanac committee that have their meetings at the Tim Horton’s gauge it, our PEI summer typically breaks on the Gold Cup & Saucer weekend. And, although the Gold Cup & Saucer Parade and the Exhibition were cancelled this year, still the weather broke. Cool nights and evening breezes began, with a storm that shook our tent last week. We generally have autumnal warmth with changing leaves, gorgeous dusks, and sunny days, and as often as not what we used to call an Indian Summer that tends to buoy the spirit. But when the famous call to the post is heard at the racetrack in mid-August, our world shifts toward Fall.
Fall is a harvest time, but as a household of teachers and students, it also means the first days of school. I teach at two local and a couple of online schools, and my wife teaches two batches (cohorts) of Kindergarten. So we tend to talk in our house about first days. On Sep 3rd and 8th, I will have three first days–though, to be fair, in one class I’ll have a second first day on the 10th (the 8th is a pre-class conference). Nicolas’ first day is also the 8th, beginning grade 11 with as much uncertainty as we can imagine in a non-war world. And Kerry has her first first day as teacher on the 8th, but her second and third first days on the 9th and 10th as the little gaffers show up with giant bookbags, filled lunch bags, and nervous bellies for their first experiences of scholarship.
This is the first time we have ever had to pack face masks with our binders and laptops and pencil kits–though when we lived in Japan, local kids had to wear a helmet to school because we were nestled up against an active volcano. My online class at Signum University this semester is on camera and at home, so social distance safe. And we are using the chapel at Maritime Christian College (MCC) for my Greek class, so that works well. But at UPEI in the Arts faculty, we have decided to offer every course online that we can in order to give space for labs (language and science) or have hands-on needs (like medical faculties). Thus, when September comes, I won’t be walking onto UPEI’s campus as it fills with students.
On only two other Septembers have I not experienced the first days of school at UPEI. The most recent time was 2018, as I took a semester off to finish my PhD thesis. The previous missing Autumn was 2013 when I was laid off due to budget cuts. Seven years has gone so fast! In 2018, I was wrapped up in writing, rather oblivious to the change of seasons around me. But this year, as in 2013, I am really missing the first days of school.
Like my fathers come to pass, I love those early days at the big, beautiful campus of UPEI. I love seeing new students arrive on campus, excited and nervous and wearing clothes that are a little new and a little nice, but not ostentatiously so. I love seeing students and faculty milling around the heritage quad, filling up the Fox and the Crow, and spilling into the library that we have outgrown some years ago. I love seeing students wander through the halls, trying to match the information on their phones to the rather idiosyncratic numbering systems of our buildings–most of which are leftover from the days of St. Dunstan’s University, a Catholic liberal arts college that had grown out of a seminary. I love walking into a new classroom, picking up a marker, and writing my name and class information on the whiteboard. I also enjoy that every year, no matter how well-prepared students are, one or two pop up out of their seats with a gasp and hurry to the room where they are actually supposed to be.
I have been teaching online for fifteen years now, beginning in Regent College‘s Distance Education program (I am teaching Eugene Peterson‘s “Soulcraft” course this fall) and now also teaching online with UPEI, MCC, The King’s College (NYC), and Signum University, global leaders in online education. I like what I do, and each semester I work to become better and better at what I do. It could be that most of the rest of my life as a university professor is in an online environment rather than in an old-fashioned classroom. But with the shift in weather to early Autumn sunshine, and with months of social distance, I am feeling the tug to our beautiful local campus.
Ah well, here comes the rain again, falling from the stars. I need to get out of the tent and make sure all our vinyl hatches are battened. I will do well this Fall, I am sure. So as I feel a little loss (lost) in the social distance, I don’t mean to suggest that I am drenched in my pain. Part of being a student, like being a teacher, is becoming who we are, learning to find the right place for us within this ever-evolving learning world. As my memory rests on all my teaching experiences, it can never forget what I lost in COVID’s ravaging of the norm. I love teaching online, and some of the most creative programming I have seen is in that setting (like at Signum). And I look forward to my quirky, eclectic, and energetic class of Greek scholars in a few days on the little MCC campus across from UPEI. But I do look forward to the time when we can ring out the bells again and see students flood the halls.
Note: Email me at junkola[at]gmail[dot]com if you are interested in any of the courses I am teaching this year:
- Greek I & II, Fall and Spring, Tues & Thurs 10:30-11:45 AT at MCC in Charlottetown, begins Sep 8th; MCC also has a full online discipleship program
- Folkloric Transformations: Vampires & Big Bad Wolves at Signum University, online graduate-level preceptor sessions on Tues at 4pm ET or Thurs at 9pm ET (my section), begins this week
- SPIR 663: Soulcraft, with lectures by Eugene Peterson at Regent College, online graduate course, begins Sep 14th
- The Fiction and Fantasy of C.S. Lewis, Spring Semester 2021, The King’s College (NYC), online undergraduate course begins Jan 15th
- My “Inquiry Studies” class at UPEI is always super full, but email me if you have questions about UPEI’s programs locally
And for those that are not Green Day fans, some of this post will have felt a little strange. I am writing this post in a tent, early in the morning as my son is sleeping. It is our annual tenting trip, but this year it was supposed to be in New England, as we trekked to a concert featuring Weezer, Fallout Boy, and, of course, Green Day. So there is a second bit of sadness laced into this post–though we have hopes for a rock pilgrimage in the future, and we have had a great couple of days in the Island woods. For those of you who are Green Day fans, I hope you enjoyed the joke woven into this serious and melancholy post. Wash your hands, don a mask, and face the future. And watch the video version of “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” which is about something completely different. As always, though, Green Day knows how to create atmosphere in their music.