Mathematics is no more computation than typing is literature.
—John Allen Paulos
You know, in my first semester of graduate school, I celebrated the end of every week. “I made it one more week!” was the refrain for all the new grad students.
My first semester as faculty? By the end of every week I was too tired to even form a coherent sentence. Maybe it’s because there isn’t exactly a whole class of newbie professors who see each other everyday, or maybe it’s because there’s always a full weekend’s worth of work to do, but I just didn’t work up the energy for celebrating on Fridays. But now that the end of the semester is almost here, I am starting to feel like it’s time to congratulate myself for making it through without any seriously huge screw-ups. (For those keeping score at home, there were at least 4 moderate screw-ups.)
One of the things that’s surprised me the most about this semester is that I have a pretty good idea of who my students are as people. In grad school, my students didn’t come to office hours, and they didn’t make a special effort to get to know me or let me get to know them. It’s the opposite story here. I see my students a lot. They participate in class. They’re funny and clever and quirky and curious and invested. The biggest surprise, to me, is that I have the emotional wherewithal to really care about 60 students. This was not something I was expecting to learn about myself! I was expecting to learn things like, “I’m not good at coming up with examples on the fly,” or, “I can draw a pretty convincing circle.”
The last week will be sad. Although some of my Calc 1 students will take Calc 2 with me, I won’t see my Linear Algebra students next semester. There are some who might never take another class with me! I’ll miss these people that I’ve come to know.