When I was growing up my father had his graduate classes over to the house for a concluding discussion on occasion. My mom would make a pie or cake or cookies and they would serve coffee and tea and sit around the dinner table and talk about scholarly things. When I was an undergrad I was invited in a few classes to a professor's home. The one I remember most is the visit I made with a class I had audited for only a third of the semester, but the prof included me in the invitation. The class had been on the use of spolia (bits of ancient buildings reused in later periods) but Dr. Bober regularly taught and wrote about ancient food and even published the first volume of a projected series on food and culture through history. She made us Roman medieval food, I think, but I don't remember anything other than her beautiful kitchen, the clear joy she took in telling us about what we were eating, and that it was the first place I ever ate kumquats. I think there were maybe 8 or 9 of us, and I felt guilty but very grateful for being included.
In my senior year, we had a two semester "senior seminar" for my major with a different prof each semester, and at the conclusion of each semester we went to each prof's house for dinner. We all dressed up and were on our best behaviour. There were 10 or 11 of us the first semester and 12 or 13 the second (one person was an interdisciplinary major and did a senior seminar in two different departments and the other was in between years).
Going to a professor's house was something special, even given the fact that I had grown up in one. One of the two senior seminar profs lived in this big beautiful house on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia (not a mansion like you see in "The Philadelphia Story" but a large house to me from the midwest, with three storeys and a basement). The other lived in a very nice apartment. Both were a ways from campus but we took the train or walked about 25 minutes across the train tracks with a hand-drawn map to guide us. Then I think we got a ride back from the prof in shifts, based on the dorm we were going to. We had Greek food the second semester; I don't remember what we ate for the first. But I remember being fascinated by what they had on their walls, what they served food with, what books were on their coffee tables. It was a chance to see what their lives outside of campus were like, a chance to imagine yourself as a professor and what your life and home would be like. It was both professional and academic and deeply personal and generous of them.
Follow me below the orange brick road below for how I have continued this tradition of my elders with my own students.
I have on occasion had students over to my house. I have yardwork that I pay the Art History club to do in the fall and after they have worked at raking leaves and cutting bushes I invite them into the house for coffee or tea (usually the second cup, as they get something to warm them up when they are working in the cold and damp of the autumn), and either a cake or other dessert or soup or a pot of chili or some such thing. Just this week I saw a conversation on Facebook between students from about five years apart, one of whom had been to my house and the other who had not, and the one who had been part of the raking crew one year remembered that I had made them tiramisu, which I don't remember at all! It goes to show how much a student will remember and the rest of the conversation indicated to me that the experience of coming to my house had meant a lot to her.
For the past several years I have invited the senior students in our major (somewhere between 5 and 8, generally) over for the last class meeting of the year. I cook and my colleague brings juice and soda. We go through the last comments on their senior theses and talk about ways to improve the class and experience for students in the next year. I don't live far from campus (a 12 minute walk at my pace, which means at least a couple of minutes less for one of my 22-year-old students). Some drive, others walk, but it is easy to find the house, and when they are seniors in the major some have been to the house before. They do show up, as it is a class, and they show up on time, as their prof is cooking for them.
So I was happy to do an English luncheon for my interdisciplinary class on the city of London as the finals period was scheduled from 11:30 am to 1:20 pm. It was a small-ish class, only ten people, and I have made them tea all semester, every Thursday. Just bring your own mug and I supplied the tea (Fortnam and Mason's Royal Blend tea, the best blend available in the whole world!) and milk and sugar. I brought cookies one day, and one of my students brought some on her birthday. For this luncheon I bought English cheeses and made two different kinds of bread, provided two different "pickles" (chutneys), and made Scotch Eggs (which I fried, as they are traditionally made, even though I did read Noddy's diary about baking them). They were to bring a dish (cooked or not was fine -- one person brought cookies from the grocery store, and another had Scotch shortbread from a box, while others asked me for recipes -- one brought a beef stew, and another made "Glamorgan sausages" which are cheese and leeks and bread crumbs shaped into sausage shape and fried), and their final version of their research paper.
Five of the students were there on time (which means between 11:30 and 11:45 am), and the rest trickled in, including one who came 1 hour and 45 minutes into a 1 hour and 50 minute finals period. One came to drop off her paper, then left -- didn't even sit down. One came and accepted coffee and a chocolate chip scone someone had brought and sat there, not saying a word except thank you for the coffee, and went through the flash cards for his next exam in Latin. One who was late did offer the excuse that she had been taking an exam (they are supposed to be set in the two hour time slots and it should not have run over an hour long).
I am left wondering about these students. They would not have shown up late for an exam (we have had exams and I know they were all relatively on time). Would they have shown up so late for a dinner party? Do they know the difference between a frat party, come wander in when you can, drop in as you want, and a sit-down meal? If their mother said "Lunch is at 11:45 am" would they show up at 1 pm? This surprised me a great deal. None had emailed me in advance to say he or she was unable to come to the final, or even that it would be difficult to come on time. Nor did they tell their fellow students.
I don't know if this is a politeness/etiquette thing. Do I need to give a lesson on "when you are invited to someone's house, you show up relatively on time" lecture? Or do I just not invite a non-major class over to my house again because half of a small class didn't know that when you have a final, even if it is not a test, it is a scheduled thing. Or that if you don't come to a social event where each person is a part of the whole, you at the very least let your host know you won't be coming? Or that if I have said it is rude to study for another class during mine (which I do say at the beginning of the class, so don't do it) that can be extrapolated to the one class meeting where you sit at a dinner table with other people in the class.
What did I do wrong? I thought I was giving them a fun way to wrap up the semester, and about half of them took it as that. The other half clearly communicated that this was an imposition on them, but they didn't ever say it was not possible to do this, or they thought it was inappropriate to go to my house (something no one has ever said to me, but it seems possible for someone to say at some point -- perhaps she keeps kosher or he is a Muslim and wouldn't find anything available to eat at my house). So I don't know why it was such an imposition.
I was quite disappointed with the experience. And I am left wondering why I tried to do this. I guess I know why I did. Because it was something that meant a lot to me and my students in the past have enjoyed, and I wanted to share that experience with these students. Silly me.