Essay 4: Andrea Broomfield–First Week Out

First Week Out

Because I am writing a book that concerns dining at sea, I tend to think in nautical terms.  When passengers were crossing the Atlantic for pleasure or work in the nineteenth century, many kept journals, and “First Week Out” was a common entry title.  Teaching is much like that voyage across the Atlantic.  In that first week,  students oftentimes experience the freshness of the experience, the anticipation of what’s ahead, the novelty of activities, and the sensory overload of all that is new and strange, much in the way that passengers experienced  the ocean as their vessel left calm coastal waters and pushed out into the Atlantic proper.

As such, I love this first week and respect it for all it gives my students and me.  Even though as captain I have made this voyage countless times, I still feel euphoric as the fresh breeze hits my face and as we pull away from the shore.  Nonetheless, I know that many of my passengers are on their first voyage.  They are simultaneously anxious and excited, and in the days ahead, my job will be to “show them the ropes,” induct them into the ways of living on unpredictable waters, and reassure them when the inevitable squalls show up on the horizon.

As a captain prepares for the voyage, so does a professor prepare for a class.  I have made sure that my assignments are relevant and also as stimulating to the students as I can make them.  I have done the readings ahead of time so that I can devise meaningful discussion questions and topics.  I have learned new technologies to help ease my students’ fears about accessing their grades and finding the homework assignments and lecture notes if they misplaced theirs or missed class.   To the degree I could, I planned for the unknown, for the inevitable challenges that every professor and class will face as the semester goes on.

Teachers and ship captains also share their love of the deep.  One loves the depth of the Atlantic, the other of knowledge.  To sail a body of water is similar to sailing a body of knowledge:  each has its timeless allure, its mysteries to be respected as well as investigated.  While teachers and captains have learned through countless experiences what it means to navigate those depths, they recognize that their students and their passengers do not yet know.  The joy of piloting and teaching is to bring on board new initiates and to recognize that among them, some will love the adventure enough to become experienced.  Some will even be willing to take over the command, to bring up a new generation of captains and teachers who will initiate in their turn the next generation.  And so, let the voyage get underway.