This weekend I actually have to go out for teaching, for the first time since Covid hit. It’s disconcerting. I may have to wear shoes.
Once upon a time, I used to go out every week or so. I would run Saturday classes, and evening classes, and day schools and workshops, all over the region. The evening classes were tough sometimes – it wasn’t unusual in winter for me to fight my way through snow or a howling gale, only to find myself alone in a room at Gateshead College because nobody else wanted to come out in the dark to talk about Greek!
Saturday classes were lovely, though – they were often more like get-togethers with old friends than lessons, because I would run into the same people year after year. Sometimes I would persuade graduates to come back and give guest talks to the new students. There were even occasions when students would fly in from whatever country they lived in, just to come to the tutorial. There was always an element of unpredictability too. Sometimes the venue would be locked, and we’d end up at the pub. Sometimes the rooms would be mislabelled and we’d find ourselves in a room full of Health and Social Care students. One time, we shared the venue with the Mensa Test, and it was remarkable how many people who were there for the test couldn’t find the right room (no, of course we didn’t laugh – not in their faces anyway). The fire alarms were often tested; building work was frequently underway; often the heating hadn’t come on and we had to wear coats; and always there was the desperate search for a source of coffee.
If I’m honest, I enjoyed the chaos.
Things started to change even before lockdown, as teaching moved gradually online at the Open University. I like online teaching, and I was a very early adopter of it, since I’ve always had a lot of overseas students in my groups – so that didn’t bother me too much as long as the face-to-face tutorials were still happening.
When the lockdowns started, the OU tutors adjusted very quickly to exclusively online teaching, since we’d all been required to go through the training and start delivering online sessions a couple of years earlier. But there was a lot of concern that maybe things wouldn’t go back to where they had been. It costs quite a lot for the OU to hire physical venues, after all, and attendance at face-to-face events has never been high.
Luckily that hasn’t come to pass – not yet, anyway – and this year we are having in-person events. But they’re not as frequent, or as well distributed around the country. I’m really fortunate that my session tomorrow is in Newcastle (near most of my tutor group) and not in Manchester or Liverpool, which would be inaccessible to many of my students and a public-transport nightmare for me. But because we have fewer sessions, they last for longer, so the poor people coming along tomorrow will have to listen to me for nearly 4 hours!
This is my only face-to-face session this year, so I’m expecting a lot from it. I hope there will be some sort of mix-up that involves me charging around deserted and dimly lit hallways in an unfamiliar building, looking for a room marked C.1.23a. I want malfunctioning tech and desperate calls to an IT department that says it works weekends but actually doesn’t. I want to sidle into a room full of strangers and ask optimistically, ‘Are you all here for Classics?’, while knowing in my heart that I’m in completely the wrong building. I want the vending machine to be a high-tech monstrosity that plays videos at you and makes only sludge.
Even a little bit of chaos would be lovely. Just for old times’ sake.
This week from around the Ancient Internet
A Hull mummy – Hull Daily Mail
Repatriating antiquities – The Guardian
Hadrian’s Wall altered to reduce appeal – BBC
Treasure in a cupboard – BBC
Project helps save Hadrian’s Wall – Newcastle University Press Office
Oldest sentence discovered – The Guardian
Comment and opinion
Agathias concludes his proem – Blogging Ancient Epigram
Roman Inscriptions of Britain in schools – Latin Now
Most famous Greek mythology movies – Greek Reporter
Epigraphic mistakes or jokes? – The VIEWS Project
The hubris of Petronius Maximus – The History Girls
Mary, Minerva and Medusa – Antigone Journal
The Phaistos Disk – Tales of Times Forgotten
Top 10 gifts – Digital Maps of the Ancient World
Thanks to Dr Crom on Twitter
Podcasts, video and other media
Translating Ovid, with Stephanie McCarter – Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby!
The oldest sentence ever written, with Edith Hall – BBC Newshour
Dictators by the dozen – The Partial Historians
The Colosseum – Accessible Art History
My talk for the California Classical Association South, last weekend.