(written Tuesday, 8/20)
The semester started today. Way back when I thought I had enough of a future to think in terms such as "career," I would always describe this time of the year in the language of addicts.
Let's not kid ourselves. There is definitely a sense in which academics and teaching are very similar to drug use. When a class goes really, really well, there is a definite rush during the "student eyes pop open in greater understanding" period--and the rush does last quite a while after class is over. The word "intoxicating," while being definitely cliche, is still very much appropriate. Of course, this is not a constantly attainable high. Teaching is quite often merely pedestrian, often sad, disheartening. This to fits the metaphor. We teachers are all chasing the perfect buzz.
As a graduate assistant, I chased the buzz quite regularly for three and a half years. Of course, my hit to miss ratio was not that astounding...I was way too inexperienced to nail the teaching thing with any regularity. Yet the highs were all totally new, totally fresh. As a result, they were that much more powerful, that much more evocative...amplified by their relative scarcity.
This is probably why the summers were always a bit of a mixed blessing for me. Actually getting free time? Awesome. Not getting paid? Much less so. Most of your friends moving away just compounded any disappointment. The biggest issue, though, was the summer started with burnout recovery from the end of the semester, exams, students begging for grades they did not earn, and the accompanying rush of trying to get my own coursework done. By the end of the summer, though, I was legitimately looking forward to getting back in the classroom for enlightenment, for the performance, for all of this and more, yes...but mostly for the buzz.
Then there was the year and a half where I found myself in a series of research assistantships. Then I realized this was deeper...as I didn't just miss teaching but seriously craved it. When this period ended and I found myself back in the classroom, I slowly was able to work my hit percentage upward. I found out, after slaking off the rust & learning how to teach these brand new to me disciplines, that I was actually getting pretty good at it. Slowly, I started moving from being an addict to being...a professional.
As I said earlier, the semester started today. I was not jonesing for it. In many ways, I was quite willing to never go in again...if only my wife wasn't strangely resistant to becoming a university president and thus becoming my sugar momma. Don't get me wrong. I still get excited about teaching. I still get the rush when things really hit. Yet I no longer long for it.
How did this happen? Well, a lot of things came to pass. Adjuncting beat a lot out of me. The sheer crushing weight of a full load of composition grading did its work as well...particularly when leaving long grading bouts in my office, heading to the car via the tenure-track faculty offices, and realizing they had left hours before my own personal grading frenzy ended. The biggest influence, I guess, was finally accepting the perspective I could gain from my wife...and then having my world exploded and reinvented by my daughter.
So, no, I don't "need" teaching in the same way as I did in the past. This is because I'm much more comfortable in myself as a person. I don't really need anything else to complete me...definitely not teaching. And let me tell you, that's a very good place to be.
That doesn't mean, however, that I can't still have some seriously weird and fun experiences, such as getting to share with one of my classes website
all said, isn't there a thrill when there's those moments of seeing the lightbulb fire up above the single student's head? the student wanting to extend discussion well after the dismissal? the email two months post-class where the student saw something vaguely course-related and wanted to share it with you?...
I'm a sucker for the intoxicant of it admittedly. If only I could better understand and appreciate a far more realistic ratio than the 100%:0% I seem to demand of myself...
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