I feel disconnected from my students a bit because of being at conferences last week and the week before. I arranged other things for them to do and all, but still it feels odd (to me, at least) because I wasn't there. After being away, I feel the need to work a little harder at being engaged and present--eliciting ideas from them more actively, encouraging them, synthesizing their ideas, and making the class really work.
There's an odd phenomenon that happens sometimes when I leave for a conference. It didn't happen this time, but it has happened before: even when I set things up ahead of time and explain that I'm at a conference, I usually get at least a few students who send these mildly accusing little notes: "I went by your office, but you weren't there." "I wanted to ask you about my paper, but you weren't there." Sometimes there's just a subtle resistance that expresses itself in the classroom on the day you get back: no one wants to talk, or they seem uninterested in the material, or complain that they "didn't know what you wanted us to do, since you weren't there" (even if I've sent them a message, announced assignments in class ahead of time, posted them to Blackboard/WebCT, and everything else).
You may have noticed a theme here: "you weren't there." At the risk of being reductive, I can safely say I've seen this behavior before, in my cats. It goes like this: I get home. They are glad to see me for a second and a half, and then they remember that I left them. This is not supposed to happen, so they stalk around and ignore me for a while until they decide that we are friends again. (Children do this, too.)
I'm glad that the classes didn't behave this way this time--or was it just my determination to put some energy into it staved off the reaction? Either way, it's good to be back.
(Topics I'd like to write about soon: job letters, Mysteriously Angry Colleagues [a meditation on jobs past], and enviroblogging or whatever we were supposed to write about for today.)