Thursday, 4 October 2012

First week of term

The term came over me like a tsunami. I thought I was well prepared after four years, but it all starts at once, and suddenly the buildings and the lawn are full of students, some of them confused, some very confident. Tuesday was PhD induction day, and I went to lunch, forgetting how horrible the food was. This was compensated by identifying our four new child lit PhDs, two continuing from last year's masters, two coming back after two years. We can't be doing things wrong if students want to go on and come back! Staff meeting next, full of news that sounded vaguely familiar and group discussion on to be or not to be of a new University Training School. I must admit that I didn't feel engaged. They will not want workshops for teachers on the pleasures of children's literature. It's all about synthetic phonics these days. (Imagine, four years ago I had no idea what synthetic phonics was. Has it made a difference in my life?) Then a get-together of new PhDs, current PhDs and supervisors within my academic group. When I entered the room, the students were all sitting in neat rows. I acted like the subversive teacher in a well-behaved classroom: Let's pull the tables together, and (not teacher-wise) by the way, there is wine downstairs. The new students were confused: they were prepared for another lecture. I said this was a welcome drink, and after a whole day of informatiuon, I was sure they couldn't take in any more anyway. Thay laughed. I asked everybody to introduce themselves, and when it transpired that more than half of the students were doing children's literature the rest of the group certainly started wondering whether Cambridge was the right place for them. After the semi-formal introduction, the Second Language students gathered together, apparently intimidated, but the two arts students, who also continued from masters, chatted away happily.

Yesterday was masters induction day, but before that I had a supervision, a "career development" talk, and my academic group business meeting. The latter was short, to my surprise, because we normally go over the hour, but I guess everybody was too overwhelmed by the beginning of term. We did all the business though, and my secretary was as amazing as ever in anticipating things I was going to ask her to do by having done them already. I managed to delegate two tasks to someone else. I am getting better as a leader.

While I was waiting for our child lit masters to get together, the phone rang. It was Julia. My first reaction to an unexpected phone call is always panic: what has happened? Nothing serious, she was in London and could she come for dinner. This sounds undramatic, but a) she lives in Stockholm b) the last I had heard from her, she was in New York. Dropping in for dinner is not what she does every week. However, we have told our children that they are welcome any time, and this was the time. There were some conversations back and forth about what train she would take and whether she was staying for the night. In between, I went to introduce myself to the new masters and even had a glass of juice with them, mostly talking to our second-year part-time students who were delighted to be back.

I picked up Julia at the railway station, Staffan concocted dinner. Isn't it wonderful that our daughter is prepared to go all the way from Stockholm via New York and London to have dinner with her old parents! We were really moved. This morning I dropped her off at the station by far too early for my liking, but it gave me a long morning to tidy up all the millions of accumulated small things, including recommendation letters, payment forms and other joys of academic life. Over lunch, there was a discussion on St Augustine and original sin which I was genuinely upset to leave because there was a prospective student coming to see me. I hope she applies as she said she intended to, because she sounded really good. How much time do we spend meeting and corresponding with prospective students who never turn up? Can this time be accounted for in my workload?

Supervision; the first PhD session, which I almost managed to monitor so that everybody had time to deliver their small presentations. This seminar has grown so much! I remember it all started as group supervision with three students in my office.

Tomorrow is matriculation dinner. It is also part of my work.

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