Thomas Aquinas Walks into a Bar: Vocation and (the Virtue of) Humor

Living out any calling in the midst of community requires a sense of humor. Laughter, after all, is about relationship: the corniest joke will succeed, and the cleverest fail, depending on how well the teller reads their audience. Laughter can invite people into shared community, and it can shut people out.

For teachers, then, laughter can be a gift, but it’s never without risk. So it’s good for us to think about how humor might shape our approach to our teaching, our students, and the way we see vocation. After all, Jason D. Stevens is right when he writes, “College, career, and calling are too often matters of pressure and panic. Laughter is something the world, and our students, could use more of. And so, perhaps, could vocational studies.”

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Best Advice for the First Day of Class

“In my beginning is my end,” says T.S. Eliot in East Coker, the second poem of the Four Quartets. This is as true of semesters as it is of life. How we do the first day of class speaks volumes about our understanding of our vocation. It sets the tone for the whole semester.

It’s not surprising then that first day advice abounds for new teachers. I’ve received all kinds of it, some of it contradictory: Come in a minute late to make a dramatic entrance. Be there early to avoid any technology blunders or other signs of incompetence. Be at the door to personally greet each student as the walk in.

But there is one bit of advice about the first day of class that I received as a graduate student that I have never swerved from. Above all else, do not drone through the syllabus on the first day. Come up with a good opener, something that sets the tone or vibe of the class, that signals to students your take on the subject and how you’ll teach it. This is the best advice I’ve ever received. It’s also the hardest to follow, and it is deeply vocational.

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