Eric Salem is a member of the faculty on the Annapolis campus.
St. John’s College: What do you look forward to most about alumni returning for Homecoming?
Eric Salem: I like to hear about what people are doing with their post-college lives. But even more, I like it when, as often happens, talk about lives turns into an occasion for serious conversation about the questions embedded in work and life.
SJC: What events will you be participating in?
ES: I’ll go to the lunch, my seminar, and the cocktail party. And I’ll just hang around the campus and see what happens and who I’ll run into.
SJC: Why did you choose Faulkner’s Pantaloon in Black for the seminar you are leading?
ES: I had a wonderful senior language tutorial a few years back and one thing we did that spring was read most of Go Down, Moses together. Pantaloon in Black was the assignment one day and I came away from the class convinced that I just had to have another group conversation about it again sometime.
SJC: What are one or two memorable moments from your time in a St. John’s classroom?
ES: I was teaching senior language for the first time and had a wonderful class, full of strong personalities, all of them passionate about reading poetry. I was talking to a friend who teaches elsewhere and he told me he thought SJC students probably couldn’t get anything out of Philip Larkin. I reported this opinion to the students and we decided to read “Whitsun Weddings” on the last day of the year. We ended up having one of our very best conversations. Never underestimate the ability of students here to rise to the occasion.
SJC: What work or works on the Program do you find yourself returning to most?
ES: The Iliad and Odyssey, the Republic, the Metaphysics and Nicomachean Ethics.
SJC: How do the seminars with alumni differ from seminars with those same folks as students?
ES: It’s hard to match the cohesiveness of a seminar that’s been meeting twice a week for a year and where most students have the leisure to live the Program. On the other hand, alumni have generally read more widely and have a much richer range of experience to draw from, and the mix of students from different classes means that alumni seminars are full of surprises.
SJC: What are one of two ’aha’ moments that you have had in the classroom setting?
ES: The first time I taught junior lab, we—the class—thought of a way, on the spur of the moment, to test Galileo’s law for free fall using the pendulum. It worked! Then the next year I tried to “manufacture” the same experience again. We got the good results but without the spontaneity—or the excitement. Both experiences were instructive in different ways.
SJC: How have students contributed to your own learning over the years?
ES: Seminars, tutorials, and labs provide me with daily opportunities to further my learning, and not just because many students are smarter than I am about this or that. If you’re a serious tutor at the college, you really can’t step into the same classroom twice.
—Brady Lee (AGI14)
Join the Homecoming fun on social media by using the hashtag #SJCHomecoming!