Ms. Jordan, weren’t we supposed to read Augustine…?

Yes, dear student, you were.  Everyone who can read the syllabus knows that.  You know who can’t read the syllabus?


In elementary school, you have the dream that the teacher doesn’t know your name.  In middle school, you enter a nightmare world where you show up to school with raging acne and everyone knows but you.  In high school, the nightmare matures as much as you have and involves having a final exam in a class you never attended.

As an instructor, it becomes far more sinister… showing up for a class without lecture notes, or having not prepped for the day at all, or being forced to teach organic chemistry when you normally teach Latin American poetry.

I think I experienced all three.  Well, at least the first two.

I lay out my syllabi as user-friendly as I possibly can, hoping that no one is lost because they can’t figure out what I’ve assigned.  Here’s a screencap of today’s assignment:

If you had the rest of my syllabus, you'd know that Tannanbaum is the author of our textbook.

If you had the rest of my syllabus, you’d know that Tannanbaum is the author of our textbook.

Pretty straight forward.  Chapter 5 is Augustine.  The week is entitled Augustine.

Not Machiavelli.

I remember as I prepped today’s lecture that I was surprised that I’d cut Augustine, Luther, and Calvin out of my syllabus.  I’m a religion instructor, too.  My areas of focus in my Ph.D. are political and cultural theory.  I know that this is a massive hole, and yet I shrugged it off and went with it.


One brave student came up and asked me to clarify why I was having them do groupwork on Machiavelli.  Weren’t we supposed to read Augustine?

I’m pretty sure I looked like this for the next five minutes:

Photo on 9-24-13 at 2.05 PM

It was probably closer to seven seconds.

If this had happened seven years ago, when I first taught my own class at the too-young age of 21, I probably would have spazzed, found a quick video to throw in, or just cancelled class.  Or tried to BS something.  Or quite possibly thrown up.

Instead, I paused, realizing that I had taught Augustine et al in multiple classes.  I’ve read the Confessions in their entirety.  I’ve lectured on Paul Tillich’s lectures on this topic, and I had PowerPoints on all the material.

So instead of wigging (other than that glorious face above), I asked them to just talk amongst themselves and created a Franken-PowerPoint out of several others.  I reviewed the notes I had from previous semesters, and I jumped right in.  All-in-all, the hiccup took about fifteen minutes.

Was it my smoothest lecture?  Absolutely not.  But our class discussion was really solid, and for that I’m pleased.  It’s nice to know that 7+ years into teaching, I really do know the introductory material well.  Plus, now I don’t have to prep anything for next week (I’ve never been so excited to teach Machiavelli).  And, I tell everyone about it, so that’s pretty cool.

As for time management, let’s just choose to not talk about that hour of office hours I spent writing this entry…


2 responses to “Ms. Jordan, weren’t we supposed to read Augustine…?

  1. As someone who is now in his thirteenth year of teaching, I have experienced that once or twice. It is most definitely not a great feeling, but the fact that you were able to pull it together and have a solid discussion makes me feel wonderful for you. And I’m not saying that just because I taught you for one year. (Well, maybe I am, but that’s beside the point.)

  2. Michael C. Jordan

    Dear Holly,
    You had much the same expression when you found out about Santa!

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