June 2001


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First Course

There’s a wonderful rhythm to a semester, any semester. The first three or four weeks have the loft that you feel in your heart when you merge onto the highway at the start of a good trip. The sky is blue and in your head you can almost see the enormous ocean, the piney forest, the vibrant city to which you are headed, as though it sits waiting at the far end of a clear line. In classes, everyone is fresh from the break (unless you’re a graduate student). The world is exhilarating and scary and alive.

But nothing lasts forever—even the euphoria of the open road. Routine pulls you in and along. You are going to have to work at this class after all. It’s as though you glance down at the trip odometer. It reads, say, 73 miles. After what seems like hours later, you realize, with a sinking feeling, that you’ve only just reached mile 119. You have 392 left to go. This part of the semester lasts a good long time.

At the three-month mark, you slide into the agitated phase. You can see to the end, and yet somehow can’t imagine that you will ever get there. You have too much yet to do. You’re. So. Tired. You blink, and it’s suddenly the penultimate moment. One or two marathon sessions to finish up all the studying. A final paper into which you pour all that you know—and more. A final test that you study the bejeezus out of. And then, whoosh, you’re out, like you’ve just slid down a gentle little chute. You’re done. You’re free. You don’t have to take that class, even the wonderful one, ever again. You can breathe, and in a little while you get to start all over again—with a difference. Each time you start over, you know a little more, have a little more savvy under your belt. It’s reincarnation, without the annoying death part.

This past year, I got to be on both sides of the classroom. A student in one, a teacher in the other, I came away noticing the same thing in both: How much I had learned about how little I knew. As a writing teacher, I can’t wait to start rebuilding my course for the fall term, putting to use what my students taught me this term about how they learn and think and see. As a student in a master gardening class, I came to realize that everything I learned about pistils and stamens, cultivation and compost, monocots and dicots, was merely a gateway to an incredibly rich and diverse plant world. One class in particular on native Western Pennsylvania plants, taught by county extension agent Sandy Feather (a proud Pitt Arts and Sciences grad from 1979) left me with my mouth hanging open, amazed at the sheer number of plants native to our little green neck of the woods. Sandy can rattle off the Latin names of shrubs and trees, flowers and grasses, like a Pittsburgh grandmother explaining the relationships among three generation of school friends’ cousins. I’m confident I’ll never get to the end of my learning. But I’ll keep trying. And that’s the way I like it.

In the meantime, it’s Summertime 101. There’s a whole world out there. The open road lies ahead. Enjoy the ride.

Sally Ann Flecker, Editor in Chief

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