The Unquenchable September Sun
Fitting everything into a hot week
What a busy time this has been for me! Recently I gathered all the documentation needed to apply for a merit pay raise at the university where I work, I hosted our annual Summer Institute on Teaching and Technology (more on that below), and I celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary with my wife Kate.
Wednesday, September 7, 1992 was particularly warm, so we decided not to eat outside at one of Sacramento’s fancier restaurants. Instead, Kate and two of our kids got vaccinated with the new bivalent vaccine that day, as they are traveling to Wisconsin later this week. Instead, I treated Kate to a special dinner with friends (surprise!) on September 10th. Next week I will tell you about the presents we got each other.
This week, I will share with you the poem I wrote for The Summer Institute on Teaching and Technology, a yearly gathering of scores of UC Davis faculty who share what they have been learning about innovative teaching. I am so impressed with my faculty colleagues, especially those who presented either live or asynchronously.
Blooming in the Unquenchable September Sun:
A Poem for the Summer Institute on Teaching and Technology at UC Davis
The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Once it felt hopeful when we would hold SITT in September.
Davis schoolchildren, some of them our children,
Had been filling their Trapper Keepers for almost a month,
But we had gathered in our air-conditioned rooms
Pretending at our personal growth camp that it was still summer,
Pretending that we had plenty of time yet to prepare for fall.
But now, as if she were hosting a barbecue required of all Californians,
The molten earth herself has warmed to our idea of an extended summer.
The U-Hauls that moved so many of our undergraduates
Between leased Davis apartments in late August
Now bake in Bunsen burner parking lots,
Itching, like all of us, to be useful for the students once again.
I seek to comment wittily on our scorched earth,
But my poet’s brain has been enduring rolling brownouts.
We can see why. I mean, the Queen is dead,
and here in Davis, it’s almost too hot for metaphors.
Around here, SITT happens only in the morning
With the understanding that by mid-afternoon
All of us will have bunkered down like Saharan sand beetles.
And just as those beetles need a hint of fog for their outstretched wings
To collect sufficient moisture to survive another day,
So do all of us need these Zoom-tiled moments
Of community, of discovery, of innovation, and support.
Our speakers, asynchronous and those present,
Outstretch their wings for us, show us where the droplets can be found.
The overstuffed maw of every double-parked August U-Haul
Reveals students who have packed too much for college.
This starts early. Driving for the first time into Davis this September,
And wondering if they are enrolling in UC Death Valley,
The new student brings not only too much luggage to the dorm room
But also excess baggage to the classroom.
Memorizing and strict attention to instructions have gotten them this far,
But what happens when our students find the syllabus to be incomplete,
The professor herself demanding that they contribute a verse?
Surely they thrived in small classes in high school, waiting for the bell,
But what happens when even in their large UC Davis classes,
Our students find themselves put on the spot,
Expectations raised as much by peers in their groups
As by the professor asking just the right iClicker question?
Like their U-Hauls, our new students have much to unpack.
The most confident of our high school overachievers,
Audacious but not yet what every fall we would call “oriented,”
Must often be eased away from their preconceptions and unhelpful habits.
We must guide them, as Yoda says, to unlearn what they have learned,
To remain receptive as they climb the scaffolds we build for them.
If indeed we sit on the top of the pyramid, teeming with creativity,
Let us strive to connect our classroom ethics to our students’ work ethics.
If “A man is worked upon by what he works on,” as Frederick Douglass says,
Let us present them with transparent classroom models, inspirations in overalls,
Showing them with every interaction why we work to teach what we love.
Piece by piece, let us give away the contents of our own overheated U-Hauls,
Mobile receptacles of our libraries, our anecdotes, our formative assessments.
The nourishment we bring can be sunshine, food, or fertilizer.
Like watering-can gardeners seeking to irrigate a parched planet,
Let us use our tools, our unmute buttons, our renamed drop-in office hours,
our taxonomic Blooms, to help our eager students bloom!
As I continue to recover from SITT and our anniversary celebrations, as well as my own shot in the arm, I count myself lucky for having such a full life, even within the environs of our little college town in appropriately-named Yolo County.
Thanks to all my ongoing Pub Quiz subscribers. They drive me to keep writing trivia for all of you. Lately I have been posting occasional trivia questions from my Twitter account for my 6K followers to enjoy. The first friend or stranger who answers a tricky question without Googling gets a copy of that week’s quiz. To keep things regular and dependable, I recommend that you just subscribe via Patreon. Thanks to especially to the following teams: the Outside Agitators, the Original Vincibles, and Quizimodo. I’m always grateful to players who pledge for their entire team. Please subscribe so you can share the fun of the Pub Quiz with your friends and neighbors!
This week’s quiz will ask questions about topics raised in my poem, as well as the following: contraptions, food with personality, pests, big fans, two people with the same job title, shortstops, the southern border, maritime borders, French titles, changed names, convex layers, words from history that begin with the letter M, breaks from everyday duties, fear factors at the movies, wasps, clouds, February mishaps, unusual fears, famous Americans, musical knots, walks in the forest, beaks and bills, patriotic songs, breadbaskets, animals in books, NASA, what violinists produce, European countries, mottos and slogans, news of the world, and Shakespeare.
Thanks for reading. Poetry Night on Thursday will take place on the roof because seasonable (even cool) weather is BACK! I’m looking forward to hearing from the queer poets Mischa Kuczynski and Jordan Karnes.
P.S. Find here three questions from last week’s quiz:
1. Last names of fictional characters. What is Thor’s last name?
2. Pop Music. What is the stage name of is the drummer for the hip hop band The Roots?
3. Anagram. What famous socialist’s speech denouncing American participation in World War I led to his second arrest in 1918? Hint: His name is an anagram of the phrase BUNGEE SEED.
P.P.S. "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." Albert Einstein