DePaul is in the middle of spring break, which is the official description of the week between winter and spring quarters. A colleague of mine recently called it “spring prep,” a phrase that better describes the experience for faculty and staff. But while I am spending a lot of my time grading winter-quarter classes and preparing for spring-quarter classes, I am getting to do all of that work from home this week and that most definitely feels like a break to me. Spending my days in my home office and not having to commute is a definite rest, even if I’m still working fairly hard.
My joy at getting to stay home and spend the majority of my day alone also reminds me that in some ways I do embody the computer science stereotype. I like being alone. Working by myself is fun and relaxing. I can easily lose myself in things for hours on end before I manage to look up and remember that I need to eat or drink or deal with something beyond whatever is staring at me from my computer screen. Given that the most prominent part of my job is teaching, which involves standing in front of large groups of people for hours at a time, I sometimes forget that I enjoy the quieter parts of my job just as much.
I also forget that the behaviors I see in my students are ones that I also possess. There are two recent events that remind me of this. On the last day of the quarter last week I finished teaching my first class a bit early which I typically never do, and as a result, I made it to my second class early. As I was sitting in the room preparing for class, students slowly filtered in. One of them was busy on his phone trying to cancel a newspaper subscription. It started a conversation about ways that companies require consumers to interact with them, and I forcefully exclaimed that nothing annoys me more than starting to make an online purchase and then having to talk to someone on the phone about the purchase. I finished by saying that I’m buying online because I don’t want to talk to people, causing one of the students there to laugh either because he agreed, because it’s a geek stereotype, or both.
Also last week I held an end-of-quarter party for my students, which primarily consisted of me reserving a conference room and buying them donuts. I have to admit I was stunned when over a dozen of them showed up. They sat around chatting with me before the donuts ran out and I had to go get more. When I got back they had put some music on the sound system in the room. At one end of the room a bunch of them were on their laptops making music and working on games, and at the other end of the room a bunch of them were playing a card game. Only a small group in the middle were still talking to each other without other distractions. I laughed about it and pointed it out to the middle group, causing one of them to protest that some people were interested in conversation.
What didn’t dawn on me so clearly at the time since I’m realizing it only in retrospect, is how completely comfortable that room felt to me. Hanging out with people who find it acceptable to distract themselves with games or their laptops in the middle of a party just feels right to me. Acknowledging that feels important to me, but it’s something I’m not sure I do a good job of conveying to my students. Given that my daughter has embraced her geek identity, I probably don’t do a terrible job of talking about the ways that I’m a geek. But I think I need to be more conscious the ways that my behavior mirrors that of my students and also of the messages that I send about those behaviors.