Like the old Gene Autry song says, “I’m back in the saddle again.” I have been thinking that I retired too young, just because I started my career at a relatively early age, so I had a full pension before regular retirement age. I am aware that I have been driving my wife crazy by my continual presence in the house, getting in her way. I know that she has been too nice to say anything, but I can see it in her eyes. Teaching was pretty much my entire life, and I’ve had nothing since to replace it. And now I’m back.
It wasn’t me who initiated the move back to the saddle. I received a call from one of my former colleagues one Friday afternoon:
“Look Jeff. To up our recently flagging reputation as a Physics department in today’s competitive environment, we have to include a course in Quantum Exclusion. We remember how you used to teach that course, when the theory was diminishing in acceptability, but with the new findings supporting its validity, we have to teach a course on the subject. And we can’t find a decent teacher to run the course, as the recent graduates weren’t taught the subject. So we thought that if we could get you to team teach such a course with one of our more promising graduate students, we could offer the course with some respectability, and administration would get off of our backs. What do you say?”
I hadn’t thought of Quantum Exclusion in years. And I had no idea what the ‘new findings’ were. Still, I was growing ever more tired of doing nothing with the academic part of my brain, so I said a hasty ‘yes’.
I spent most of the weekend studying what the new findings were. The ideas were complicated, but I could understand them. My wife smiled when she saw the intensity of my studying, something she hadn’t seen for a while.
Driving to the school the next day, I started to think about all the changes that I had experienced in my 30 some years of teaching. There was the shift from typewriters (which I could fix when anything went wrong) to computers (with which I had to go to the ever-busy IT department). And there were no more projectors as of the year I left. They made me feel like I was showing movies. Then there was writing on the board. At first they were blackboards (actually they were greenboards, but the principle was the same), which I liked, in part because there was almost always chalk available in the room, to whiteboards, for which I had to remember to bring the right type of marker, (erasable) as none were available in the classroom. I was glad when I discovered that if I wrote over the non-erasable with the erasable, then the first writing was eliminated. I had to teach some other ancient teachers that.
I had been a dedicated user of paper handouts, no computer representations ever. Never, ever have I felt the need to ‘chat’, and I would be next to powerless with power point. I retired a a short time after administrators were trying to bully antiques such as I to use.
I had a long conversation with my co-teacher. He, his name was Dave, would sometimes speak a language I could barely understand of the on-line teaching devices, that were the by-product of the pandemic. But then, when it came to Quantum Exclusion, I was the one who had to speak slowly and carefully to be understood. So the first few classes were kind of like two dancers trying to move together to a different beat.
Fortunately, this was one of the classrooms that still had a board of sorts, obviously by appearance not used much in the recent past. And I had brought an old erasable marker with me, and our students adapted rather quickly, I thought, to the novelty. Handouts got the same response, wonder at first, adapting soon enough. After a few classes, binders began to appear
First Teacher Meeting
I was introduced to my fellow Physics department teachers at the first staff meeting. They were amused by the stories that Dave told them about the students having to get used to my old-fashioned teaching ways. But they were very interested in what I had to say about Quantum Exclusion. My several weekends of heavy duty reading had made me the department expert. They asked me whether there were any textbooks on the subject, but I had to tell them that there were none that I knew of. The majority clearly did not like the idea of just having on-line files to teach the course with, like some administrators had been suggesting.
Not Back in the Saddle Anymore
After not a very long while it felt not so much that I was ‘back in the saddle again.’ It felt more like I was riding bareback on a wild horse with a good chance that I would be bucked off and sent crashing to the ground face first. I knew that could not do this for another semester. I would have to leave it with Dave to pick up the reins, although I thought that would be letting him down in a big way, so saddle, just reins. I had a feeling that as much as he liked getting his first professor’s job, he was not ready to teach it by himself.
My wife was happy that I was teaching again. It wasn’t just that I was no longer crowding her with my non-engaged presence as I had been for the years after I retired. I could tell that she liked that I was involved once more with something that made me feel worthwhile. How could I tell her that I did not feel that I could do it again. It was all too much, particularly without the existence of a textbook.
Inspired by a Student
In the last week of the course, before I had announced to anyone that I was going to re-retire, one of my favourite students entered my office. Usually when a student did that, it was to tell me to use that often repeated old Ricky Ricardo line (which I recently learned was actually a misquote) that, like Lucy, I would have a lot of “splaining to do”. But this was different. He told me that he totally enjoyed the course (he was a Physic major), and wished that there was a readable book on the subject of Quantum Exclusion that he could get his hands on during the summer to learn more. When I told him that there was none such, I received the delightful and surprising response of “You should write one sir.” And to my surprise, more than to his, I said “I will. I am planning to write a textbook on the subject. You can read the rough drafts, and make some helpful suggestions.” There were big smiles on both our faces, and he shook my hand.
That night I had two things to say to my wife. The first was that I did not intend to teach the course again in the fall. Her face fell a bit when I said that, but I believe she understood. She often knew more about my feelings than she let on. But the second thing lifted her face back up to a smile and she gave me a hug. “I am going to write a textbook on what I was teaching this semester.”
That summer, I was for sure ‘Back in the saddle again”, back where a book is a frie