RIP Bowie

Starting a new semester always feels like plunging into a bottomless lake: you’re instantly subsumed into a dizzying blur of motion, and it takes a while to find your equilibrium. I sometimes wonder what it is like for folks who work a regular job where every day is pretty much like the last, without the excitement and upheaval of starting over, again, every three months or so. It there comfort in being settled into a predictable routine, or does that routine quickly become a daily slog?


After several years of teaching nothing but first-year writing, this semester I’m teaching a 200-level literature class on “The American Short Story.” I taught a similar adult education class in New Hampshire years ago, but what worked with a small group of adults meeting one night a week after work doesn’t necessarily play to a brimming classroom of 18- to 20-something-year-olds. When you teach a class for the first time in a long time, it’s easy to doubt both your knowledge and abilities: is teaching a skill you always remember, like riding a bike, or can you grow so rusty, you forget how to do it over time?


Preparation is essential to good teaching: the classes where you walk in and try to “wing it” are invariably the ones where everything goes wrong. But there is such a thing as over-preparation. When I look back on the detailed class-plans I crafted for that long-ago adult ed course, I’m amazed I ever had time to be so organized. In retrospect, I realize my typewritten plans were designed for my own more than my students’ benefit: having pages of notes as a safety net made me feel more confident even if I never actually referred to them in class.


Looking back on that long-ago adult education class, I remember how the best sessions took on a life of their own, my students steering the discussion into corners my notes never anticipated. I suppose that’s how teaching goes on the good days: you prepare your script, then you let yourself improvise as the moment unfolds. Plunged into the dizzying blur of the present moment, you kick your legs and flail your arms, relieved to realize you never forgot how to swim.

Frost on mums

When I was a fresh-faced and earnest young undergraduate, the pastor of the evangelical church I attended at the time said something that has stuck with me long after I drifted from his particular theology. In response to a group of bleary-eyed congregants sneaking in late to Sunday morning worship, Pastor R proclaimed from his pulpit, “Preparation for worship starts the night before.”

Callery pear

It was a lesson I didn’t initially appreciate. As a college student, I procrastinated as much as any other student, which often meant staying up late to finish work I should have done earlier. Although I wasn’t much of a party animal, there were plenty of Saturday nights when I stayed up late doing homework: going to lengthy church services on Sunday meant doing a double-dose of homework on Saturday night. Still, Pastor R’s advice made sense to me intellectually. If you want to be bright-eyed for Sunday morning worship, you shouldn’t stay up late on Saturday night. It’s a simple matter of cause and effect.

I no longer go to lengthy Sunday church services, but I’ve finally come to realize the wisdom of Pastor R’s advice. Preparation for teaching, I’ve learned, starts the night before. If I want a busy teaching day to start smoothly, it helps if I pack my lunch, arrange my books and papers, and choose my outfit the night before. When morning comes, there’s always so much to do and plan–so many morning woulds clamoring for attention–so it helps if the basics are already laid out and ready to go.


During this month of NaBloPoMo, I’m learning that preparation for daily blogging also starts the night before. Last year, I learned that producing a month’s worth of illustrated blog-posts is easier if you’re in the habit of stockpiling images to use on days when light and inspiration are sparse. This year, I’m taking my practice of planning ahead even one step further. In addition to shooting extra pictures to use on a proverbial rainy day, this year I’ve tried to write an initial draft of each day’s post the night before. Knowing that I have a literal head-start on each day’s blog-post makes it that much easier for me to finish and publish that post.

Instead of reverting to the procrastinating ways of my college days, it feels reassuring to know that on any given November morning, I have photos and at least a rough draft (rather than a completely blank screen) to start with. I may have drifted from Pastor R’s evangelical theology, but I’d like to think that my newly acquired habit of starting something important the night before would make him proud.