As of today, I’m two weeks into teaching a Multimedia Writing and Rhetoric course. I now fly solo, having designed the class more or less from scratch: syllabus, writing assignments, readings, you name it. And one more thing: I now hold office hours.
Mondays & Wednesdays 3:30-4:30, and by appointment, my syllabus says. It’s as if I typed it in my blood, signing a pact with my students and committing to a “regular scheduled programming” of availability. An important part of teaching—just being there, waiting in the wings to offer help, encouragement, feedback. On mandatory conference days, I will do just that. Each student will come in to my shared office area and breathlessly rattle off their questions, looking to me for guidance that only I, their writing instructor, can provide.
That’s the version in my head, at least.
More often than not, though, I sit here alone.
I suppose I could use this time to work, but for now, at least this early into the semester when my first-years are still undergoing the inevitable adjustment from wide-eyed to bleary-eyed college students, I find myself dwelling on them. They’re quickly easing into campus life, but some residual anxieties persist. How they question whether I’m testing them when I say, “Feel free to call me Jake,” opting instead for a “Mr. Schepers” or finding some middle-and-yet-somehow-still-awkward ground with “Professor Jake.” How they decide each class to sit where they have in the first week of the semester or if they’re free to switch things up. How they start talking with each other and realize they’ve once again forgotten their classmates’ names, lost in the sea of endless exchanges from orientation, dorm life, and other classes.
This need to dwell may wane. It probably will. Soon enough, there will be other semesters and other students. The euphoric newness of teaching will wear off, and I’ll settle into a routine of teaching/work/life balance. I will feel more comfortable using office hours for my own work at that time.
Right now, though, I’m fine spending time on my students in my thoughts, if not in person. I signed that time in my blood, after all. A sense of obligation propels me on, not to mention the unwavering feeling that my students deserve these office hours, whether they make use of them or not. Romanticized, sure. Maybe even to a fault. I’m wide-eyed too, at least for the time being. But when those students do end up bleary-eyed, they’ll know to look for my neon sign and find me by following Tom Bodett’s voice: “We’ll leave the light on for you.”
Jacob Schepers (Calvin ’12) is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (2014), a winner of the 2013 Outriders Poetry Project competition. His poetry has appeared in Verse, The Common, PANK, The Destroyer, and others. He lives in South Bend, IN, with his wife, Charis, and two sons, Liam and Oliver. He is both an MFA student and doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame.