Enter to learn; go forth to serve

For the second summer in a row, I’m teaching Summer School at Keene State College. As an adjunct instructor at KSC (someone who’s officially considered a “full-time temporary” employee), I don’t get my normal paycheck during the summer months, so Summer School is a good way to bring in a little cash. Summer School classes are smaller than academic-year classes–this semester, I have 14 students in my Lit of the Open Road class, and that’s a “large” Summer School section–and these classes are offered through Continuing Ed, so there’s usually a good mix of ages. In a word, Summer School’s cool: I get to make a little money, teach smaller sections of my usual classes, and mingle with a more mature, self-motivated group of students.

It helps, too, that I really like it at KSC: the institution that students wryly refer to as Kinda Sorta College is Kinda Sorta Cool, too. (Sorry, Shane, if I’m bringing on another bout of Keene-sickness, but it’s true!) The first time I drove through downtown Keene, I was on my way to interview at Keene State: I’d recently quit my part-time adjunct job at Saint Anselm College in the hopes of finding a “real” full-time job in corporate America. (I’ve mentioned this failed quest before: my official motto at the time was “I’ll do anything for health insurance,” but sadly no one wanted to take me up on the offer.) Finding that no companies wanted to hire an over-credentialled, under-experienced academic refugee, I didn’t hang up when I got a call from Kirsti Sandi, Director of Writing at KSC. Although the full-time adjunct position she was looking to fill didn’t offer health insurance, I was jobless without any prospects on the horizon. Sure, I said, I’d come for an interview, but I wasn’t expecting to take the job: after all, why would I want to exchange one dead-end adjunct job for another (albeit full-time) one?

Silver Maple, Fisk Quad

Well, there was something about the town of Keene, and the campus of KSC itself, that changed my mind. When I first drove through the Square in downtown Keene (you have to picture me making a circle motion with my hand when I say “the Square in downtown Keene” since the Square is actually a circle), I thought to myself, “I could be happy living here.” At the time, Chris and I were homeowners in Hillsborough, NH, about 40 minutes from Keene, and we weren’t looking to move. Still, there was something about downtown Keene that struck me and hasn’t yet let go (as this blog and its many pictures testify). Central Square is a quintessential New England town, quaintly topped with a white church spire and lined with trees. People actually stroll through downtown Keene, and the day of that first fateful visit was sunny and clear. The thought “I could be happy living here” was more accurately the realization that I could be happy walking here: the streets of downtown Keene looked (and are) pedestrian-friendly. In my mind the way to judge a town is by foot: if I can walk it, I’ll love it; if not, well, maybe it will grow on me, or then again maybe not.

Partly cloudy; mostly leafy

When I set foot on the KSC campus, my fate was clinched. I’ve always been a strongly intuitive person: although I have an entirely logical head, I tend to trust my gut when it comes to making big decisions. When I was considering that aforementioned adjunct job at Saint Anselm College, I spent an afternoon walking the campus: finding it to be green, pleasant, and pedestrian-friendly, I knew I’d be happy teaching there, and I was. Over the years, I’ve applied and in one case interviewed at other unnamed New England colleges where I haven’t felt the same at-home feeling: in each case I haven’t regretted turning down or failing to pursue the proffered position. If I can walk a campus and feel that nebulous “at-home” feeling, it’s a good fit; if I wander the campus and get lost, feel out-of-place, or find nothing aesthetically pleasing, it’s probably not a good fit.


So on that June day some three years ago when I first set foot on the campus of Keene State College, I knew I’d be happy teaching here. I remember I was wearing a green dress and the campus was similarly bedecked: even though most students will never see KSC in her summer finery, the grounds crew takes great care to keep the campus clean, green, and lush throughout the spring and summer months. Keene State has lots of trees on campus; in fact, at least one publication refers to the “Keene State College Arboretum & Gardens” and leads visitors on a walking tour with information on the various trees and plants you can see here. (KSC also publishes a map of walking routes on campus, which says something about the earthy-crunchy nature of the institution.) As silly as it might sound, being surrounded by green is important to me. Had Keene State’s campus been overwhelmingly framed in brick and concrete, I probably wouldn’t have sought out Kirsti’s office for that interview. Finding it to be green and inviting, I began to envision the possibilities.

In the three years since that sunny June day, I’ve found my initial gut instinct to have been on-target: it’s cool (and even keen) to teach at Kinda Sorta College, even in the summertime. After having two 90-plus-degree days here in New Hamsphire this week, we’re back to our usual mild summer temperatures: clear, sunny days in the 70s, and even cooler sleeping weather at night. Keene State’s looking good these days; my students are diligently reading, writing about, and discussing great American lit, and life is good. The other day in class, a student’s cell phone went off; looking chastened, she explained as she dashed into the hallway to take the call that her daughter was home alone. “No problem,” I laughed: it’s difficult to juggle kids and other summer obligations with a mid-afternoon class that meets four days a week, and even I sometimes forget to turn off my cell phone. “You’re the only professor I’ve ever had who laughs when someone’s cell phone rings,” another student, looking too-cool-for-school in a funky sundress, remarked. “All my other profs lecture about cell phones for 10 minutes the first day of class and then give you the evil eye if one goes off.”

Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata)

Well, yeah, I guess I should crack down on errant cell-phone calls and practice up on my evil eye…but just the other night my cell-phone went off during my Women’s Lit class. Accidents and cell-phone calls happen, and summertime is when the living is easy: we can afford to be a bit more laid back than usual. Summer’s cool, you see, and summer school’s even cooler.