Friday, September 18, 2009

All new

When I first started teaching, I was regularly called upon to give presentations that I had never given before. I had models to draw from -- the lectures of my teachers -- but the circumstances of the classes meant that I had to synthesize the material in a new way.

Over the years, some of those presentation turned out to be one-shots, but some became recurring features of recurring classes. Gradually the inherited material leeched out of those lectures, to be replaced by some more personal understanding of the issues at stake. And over the years, the necessity of creating brand new lectures came up less and less. That's because I only lecture in the team-taught freshman seminar, and then only once or twice a semester.

But every once in a while, even in these attenuated circumstances, I have to create a new lecture. It is exactly this situation in which I find myself. The freshman curriculum was revamped last year, and some new content was added. So here I am with a brand new presentation to give on Monday, on the topic of Augustine, Aquinas, and the medieval self.

And that wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary if the stakes weren't so high. Remember, this is one of two lectures I will give in this entire semester -- perhaps this entire year. The audience is one hundred of the best students in the state, along with six of my colleagues and seven upper-class teaching assistants. A tradition of dynamic, challenging presentations has arisen in the last several years. If the students don't leave in a state of existential crisis, you haven't done your job.

So I've been slaving away on this lecture all week, adding material a few bullet points at a time. I'm at the end, still looking for a big finish, and I'll be spending part of the day on Sunday putting together a slideshow of period images. On Monday morning I'll be too nervous to read student work before class, and afterwards I'll feel like I deserve the rest of the day off. It's a good thing this doesn't come along more than once a year, because it's probably the hardest work I do.

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