Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sources of joy

Six or eight years ago, I went to a SIGCSE talk by Jesse Heines in which he mentioned, offhandedly, that he knew all of his students' names. After the talk, I asked him how he did this, for it was something I struggled with. The trick he taught me is one I've used for several years when teaching larger classes: have everyone write their name on a sheet of paper and take mugshots. He printed his up into a poster, but I just have mine set as a screensaver, so that when I haven't touched my input devices for ten minutes or so, students start flipping through my screen, one second at a time.

Now, it seems if one is going to have students come to the front of the room for a mugshot, then it seems they should say something about themselves as well. I used to ask them to say something about how they first became interested in computers, but this turned too quickly into "XYZ is my favorite video game." Last year, I asked instead for students to share something that made them smile. In one of my sections, it was quite nice, but in the other one, it turned very dark in the dark-comedy sense: smiling at bad things happening to other people.

I happen to be in the middle of C. S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy, and so I've been reflecting on what "joy" is and where I find it. In this spirit, as I set up and explained the mugshot routine, I asked my students to share something that recently brought them joy. To kick things off, I told the story of how the previous day, my one-year-old had picked up a baseball cap, put it cockeyed on his head, had one sandal on, and was lopsidedly parading through the hallway.

I was moved by my students' responses, and so I decided to share some from memory here. Here are some things that bring my students joy, in no particular order.

  • I found out we are getting a German Shepherd puppy.
  • When I was home, I got to see a cousin I had not seen in three years.
  • My kitten does the cutest thing, where it lays on its back and I rub its tummy.
  • I have a Web development company, and yesterday I secured a great contract.
  • My baby said, "I love you" as I left the house today.
  • Last semester, I found a quarter at the bus stop.
  • The new FIFA comes out next week.
  • My friend made an outfit for her cat.
  • I saw a great movie that really moved me.
  • I won a costume contest at a comic convention.
  • I hit max level in World of Warcraft.
  • I am a TA for the intro CS course, and I was in the lab with a student who was on the verge of tears, he was so frustrated. I looked over his code, and it was just missing a semicolon. He was thrilled, and I felt like I really made a difference.
I know there were more, but these are the ones that come to mind as I think through it. Only one student, toward the end, offered the slightest schadenfreude, and that was, "Last week, I saw Jimmy fall off his bike," but at least Jimmy was right there, and they are clearly buddies.

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