It’s finals week for many folks. Spring semester is ending or has just ended. Final research papers are being graded, graduations attended, incompletes filed. And I, I am not doing any of that. I can’t really say I miss it.
That makes me sad.
This was the first semester in over 5 consecutive years where I didn’t teach a single class. I thought I’d go through withdrawal and really ache to be in a classroom. (No one worry – I never thought I’d feel withdrawal from the grading.) I thought I’d miss discussing the pleasure of a well-written sentence or the glory of an idea presented in type on paper. I even thought I’d miss having my own little platform to discuss my favorite subjects: writing and reading.
But the truth was, I didn’t. I’m not sure what to make of that.
I did miss my students immensely. I did miss having colleagues. I did miss reading my favorite essays. But the teaching part, I didn’t really miss.
Maybe it’s just where I am in life. Maybe it’s that I was a little burnt-out from teaching five classes a semester. Maybe I just needed a break. Only time will tell.
But I suspect it’s something more than that. I think, honestly, that I don’t miss teaching because so much of teaching isn’t really about teaching – it’s about politics and grading and discipline and administration and committees and coaching. So much of what I did as a professor was about keeping a system going rather than about sharing ideas or encouraging students to find their own words. I don’t miss any of that.
I also don’t miss the lack of investment that some students carry into the classroom. I don’t miss trying to convince people why it’s important that they write well and that they care about language. I don’t miss coaching people into doing their homework or trying to show why it really does matter that they use the word you, not the letter u when addressing someone in second person. I don’t miss fighting that battle.
I do miss the rigor of discussion and the pleasant fever of those rare moments of discussion where the room just lights on fire with ideas. I do miss seeing a student really get it. I do miss reading those closing paragraphs that make the hair on my arms stand on end and my spine tingle. I do miss hearing a student say, “I loved this essay, Ms. Andi.” I really do miss those moments.
It is probably those moments that will draw me back to teaching some day. But if and when I return, I will carry what I have learned from this semester away with my words – It’s not the grades or the committees or the strategic plans; it’s not the faculty meetings or photocopies or the retention/completion statistics. It’s the words that are important – the words we say to one another about our passions and our dreams, our griefs and our hopes. It’s the words that find their way – as if almost by magic – onto the page of an 18-year-old man who never knew he could make paper sing, by the hand of a 65-year-old woman who thought her voice was lost in her children, in the glimmer of a 36-year-old teacher’s eye when that room whispers with the fire of language.