Professors share their routines to get ready for the upcoming busy semester


Coleen Grissom, professor of English and former dean of students, reads in her office during a quiet time before classes start up again for the fall. photo by Amani Canada

Every year, many students scramble at the last minute to order their textbooks, buy new notebooks and organize their planners to prepare for going back to school. But what about professors? What does the beginning of the semester look like for the people on the other side of the classroom?

“When one semester ends and the class climate survey results arrive, I go through them carefully, class by class, taking notes about what students wrote in evaluating their experience in each course,” said Coleen Grissom, professor of English and former dean of students.

The professors also prepare for the new year by participating in more fun and superstitious activities, such as organizing their clothes in specific ways and trying to pick out a special outfit to wear for the first day of classes.

“I have to dress differently once school starts, so that I can fully enjoy my last few days of wearing shorts,” said Ruben Dupertuis, associate professor of religion. “I’m also a pen freak, so I always have to have my Lamy pen with me for the first day back too. It’s a German pen and it’s the cheapest fountain pen that’s really good.”

Another aspect of preparing for the school year comes from profs changing their syllabi and adjusting it to students’ needs. The professors often review their class climate surveys and analyze what worked and what didn’t from the previous year, usually in ways students wouldn’t necessarily think.

“On occasion, I re-organize a class entirely and write a brand-new syllabus,” said Michele Johnson, associate professor of biology. “But usually, I revise the syllabus based on what new information we’ve learned since I last taught the class, what current issues are affecting our students and the world and student feedback from previous semesters.

Overall, the most beloved thing about the new school year is the students. From reconnecting with their students from previous years to meeting participants in all of their new classes, professors enjoy preparing to see students once again.

“What I most love is being there when these bright, articulate people start developing and using their own critical judgment, articulating and explaining reasons for it and exploring their views and those of their peers in constructive, non-confrontational discussions,” Grissom said. “Before my very eyes I often see students read more insightfully, write with greater clarity and speak confidently, and sometimes even enthusiastically, about what we’re studying together.”

A large part of going back to school includes meetings within the different departments, planning their courses and other administrative tasks. They also often discuss the direction of the department and what they hope to accomplish for the year.

“We’re always thinking about our current students and how to take care of them and we’re thinking about our future students. We also think about our past students,” Dupertuis said. “Yesterday, we had an alumni gathering and just really think about connecting forward and connecting back with students.”

Despite planning, the fate and results of a class can never be truly predicted.

“It’s exciting to think about where you end up at the end of the semester. A lot of what we do is getting the classes going and one of those examples is planning how to make sure we have all the classes we need in Pathways because this is a relatively new curriculum that we’re all transitioning to,” Dupertuis said.

Before classes get under way, students can do a few things to make a strong first impression.

“I like for students to introduce themselves to me, and to help me learn more about them as individuals. I can teach a more effective class when I know what experiences and goals students are bringing,” Johnson said.

Regardless of what a professor has planned, the students best interests are first priority.

“I once taught Jennifer Egan’s brilliant, hilarious, but eccentric and demanding “˜A Visit from the Goon Squad’ just prior to semester break.  It was a disaster because, in spite of lacking my permission, my students seemed to have other responsibilities and interests. They need an “˜easy’ reading for that dreadful “˜mid-semester season,’ so now I try to provide it.” Grissom said.