Post-sabbatical re-entry is a #*%$&%$. There’s no other way to say it. The office is dusty; the plant is very, very unhappy. Your colleagues only barely remember you. None of the students looks familiar: what they look is cold, tired, and not quite ready for January.
But neither are you, so it’s a wash. UGH.
After a week of this, I was officially exhausted: the mental and emotional energy required to sustain a class that has little to give back is a lot even in the warmest, brightest months; in the cold months with lots of snow, strong wind chills, early darkness, and DID I MENTION THE COLD??? – it’s enough to make you think this:
So while I was prepping for week two, I remembered a recent Tomorrow’s Professor post I’d read about different ways to warm a class up before getting started with the day’s proper labour. And I thought to myself:
Yup, I could use a nice warm-up, alright.
So I programmed a couple in. Here’s what happened.
I use warm-ups in studio classes all the time, but in seminars they are not conventional. In lecture classes they are DOWNRIGHT WEIRD.
But I live for weird, man.
In my first class on Thursday (students = 12), I had only an hour, so a full-body check-in was not on the cards; you need at least 10 precious minutes for that. Instead, I took a page from the post and did a seated, basic, mental-state warm-up.
First, I asked everyone to say their names. (It’s week 2; do you know each other’s names yet? I didn’t think so. And neither do I!)
Then, we all had to complete this sentence: today, I am feeling XXX.
I started: I’m Kim, I’m the prof, and today I am feeling engulfed by chaos.
(I googled “engulfed by chaos”, and this image of David Davis was THE FIRST thing that appeared. I am not making this up.)
As we went around the tables, we got some compelling answers: I’m feeling like a million bucks! (OMG, hooray!). I’m feeling extremely embarrassed. I’m feeling excited for the weekend. I’m feeling … busy.
The Serious Professor part of my brain always tries to tell the rest of the brain, when I get tempted to warm stuff up, that it’s a waste of time. After all, we have so much Important Stuff to cover!
But here’s the truth of the thing: we had so much better a class after five minutes of sharing our feelings-in-the-moment than we had had on the previous three days, I could not help but assume a corollary. This tiny task, after all, not only humanizes us all (profs included); it bonds us.
We become a community.
In my second class, we had two hours – of Aristotle FOR CHRIST’S SAKE – and in a windowless room to boot. (I find it painful to recall that on my “to do different” list for 2018 in this particular class, top of the list was “find a room with windows!”. I mean, What The Holy Fuck, people! How can there be classrooms with no windows that have not yet been decimated? What year is this? What planet am I on?)
Which means: we really needed to warm up.
This second group is twice the size of the first one (students = 21), and god knows their names are not yet in my brain. So I seized this chance to play a name game, one I gleaned from a talk the phenomenal deaf artist Jenny Sealey gave at Queen Mary University of London this past June.
First, we gathered in a circle in the middle of the windowless, airless room. We all closed our eyes. The brief: imagine your sign-language name, the gesture that says: YOU. Then, make it.
Next, we went around the circle and said our names and made our signs. We repeated each others’ signs for good measure. So far, so manageable.
The third step, though, was the charm: starting to my left, each student had to say the name and make the sign of the person(s) before them, and then their own. The unlucky folks on my right had to do this for almost everybody – and then I paid the piper by doing every single student’s name and sign.
In fact, to be totally fair, we all made each other’s signs along the way, supporting each new student/victim in the queue; in this way, I made Taylor’s diving gesture, and Thomas’s bright flower, and Kylie’s heart, a whole bunch of times. By the time we were at my turn (big, crazy jazz hands, if you must know), it was easy – and everyone was laughing and clapping.
And, once more, we had a way, WAY more energized and interesting class than any of the three preceding ones.
Warm-ups don’t always work: the novelty wears off, the movement gets fatiguing by the time everyone is tired in the middle of term. But at their best they are ways to re-energize a listless group, or a listless teacher, and a great, fun way to make a class into a bonded community, even if only temporarily. Better learning is not guaranteed, but it’s definitely a possibility.
On that basis alone, warm-ups make for terrific pedagogy.