End of Teaching for 2019

So it’s 6pm on Wednesday 18th December and I’ve just given my 24th and last Astrophysics & Cosmology lecture for the term at Maynooth University. Earlier this afternoon I gave my 36th and last first-year Mechanics & Special Relativity module so that’s over for the year too. That makes 60 lectures for the semester.

I find these twelve week semesters very tiring (even with a week-long break in the middle). I assume the students do too. Numbers in class certainly dropped off this week, but overall I’ve been very happy with the level of engagement of the students, especially the first years. Although it’s a lot of work putting on a big course for the first time, I do enjoy teaching very much indeed. I have found few things in life more rewarding than teaching students who want to learn and physics students here in Maynooth do seem to be highly motivated. The exams for both modules are in January so I’ll find out in the New Year if anyone actually learnt anything!

This morning somebody suggested that would be my last teaching for the decade. Of course that is incorrect. The current decade ends on 31st December 2020, not 31st December 2019, just as the millennium started on 1st January 2001 not 1st January 2000. I’m glad a fellow blogger has taken the trouble to point the reason: there is no Year Zero.

Earlier today we had presentations from our final-year project students, which were very good. As usual on such occasions I find myself thinking how much better current generations of students are at that than mine was!

I don’t mind admitting that I’m not inconsiderably knackered at this moment and will be heading home for a bite to eat and a glass or several of wine. Tomorrow I have a few things to do before heading off for the Christmas break, after which regular blogging will be suspended for a time.


2 Responses to “End of Teaching for 2019”

  1. The phrase “the decade” is unfortunate, as there are many decades. There’s no doubt that the period from 2011 through 2020 is a decade, and we’re not at the end of that. But we are at the end of the decade that runs from 2010 through 2019. So while pedants [1] may have some justification for saying we’re not at the end of *the* decade, we are at the end of *a* decade.

    Of course, that statement I just made is vacuous, as every moment [2] is the end of *a* decade. It makes sense to describe a moment in this way only if the decade in question is a natural interval of time for humans to want to use to classify things. The decades that run from years ending in 0 through years ending in 9 do seem like natural ones to use: people love to talk about “the 60s”, “the 80s”, etc., and have since at least the 1920s, a decade in which it was common to talk about “the gay [18]90s”.

    We commonly refer to centuries (although not decades) with ordinal numbers. In that context there’s no doubt that the pedants are right: the 19th century encompassed the years from 1801 through 1900, not 1800 through 1899. Otherwise, the “first century” would have only 99 years, or would have to include 1 BCE, either of which is absurd.

    So if someone said that you would do no more teaching in the 202nd decade, they were off by a year. If they said you were done teaching for the decade called 2010s, they were right. And if they just said “the decade”, then I think you should give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they meant the latter.

    [1] I hasten to add that I do not attach any pejorative connotation to the word “pedant”; on the contrary, it’s a label that I proudly accept for myself.

    [2] Except for moments in the first 10 years after the Big Bang.

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      I just learned that Spanish has a word for a period of 5 years.

      The Scandinavian languages use similar expressions to refer to a decade (the 70s: sjuttitalet) and to a century (the 1900s: nittonhundratalet). There is a word for century, århundre, but it isn’t used as often as century in English when referring to a specific span of 100 years. (These examples are from Swedish. The Scandinavian languages are rather similar. Due to Bernadotte, Swedish has a few French loan words; one, sekel, is another word for century (as in Fin de Siècle).)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: