The First Two Weeks: A Debrief

Empty Chairs Credit: Mimi Rowntree

School started in the flurry of changing restrictions, rising cases of the Delta variant, and a lot of excitement. My own university gave the instructors wide latitude in terms of class capacity, masks, and social distancing. We have been free to make our own decisions. I am incredible grateful for these policies. On the whole, the first two weeks have been (for me) a gift. In this previous post, I discussed the concept of pedagogical gratitude. Robin Kimmerer has taught me that gratitude in the classroom enables hope. These past two weeks have been full of gratitude for me and in the doing I have found a great deal of hope for the future.

Most of my students are wearing masks of their own accord. I have mentioned it and we have talked at length about how important it is to be present. I have observed several instances in which students have been present for their classmates as well as trying to maintain their distance safely. Acts of kindness abound. Gratitude. In class, I try to direct the students’ attention to the ways in which their ethical behavior can translate to our continued engagement. We have talked about the ethics of language and its connection to action. While some may still be resistant, I have found the students this semester to be eager to learn and to think. I have had really solid attendance numbers. Hope.

I have also found the students willing to engage in philosophical conversation. They want to talk about stuff. I opened the floor to this line of discussion last week via a short lecture on the movement of language and principles of communication. Their responses surprised me. Gratitude. While we may not share the same ideas, we are sharing the same space. We are communicating in a way that we have been denied this past year. Hope.

Finally, my goals for these first few weeks have been to lay the ground work for our communication, the scope of our knowledge, and the principle of practice. The students overwhelmingly admitted to not having experienced a course like mine before. They also expressed frustration, exhaustion, and confusion. Gratitude. If my aims as a rhetorician are to produce ethical arguments (and that is one of my aims), then having a safe space to be open about each other’s subject positions is a success. As we discuss the power of words, perhaps they will take with them from my class that they should value words and take care when communicating them. Hope.

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