It’s the end of Spring term and of the school year. I am sitting at my desk staring down a massive pile of grading that I don’t want to do. My colleagues and I joke (okay, or they just humor me) that we should be able to simply give our students the grades that we have for them in our hearts. It would (maybe?) be kind of similar to grading their writing because it’s usually hard to care about the student who simply doesn’t care or make an effort. And I would tack on extra points for the students who wear great shoes.
I had a fantastic class this Spring. Many of them were students who I had taught before, either in Fall or Winter, and they returned to complete the second part of the two-class series with me. And they brought friends. The fact that I already knew so many of them, and that they knew most of the newcomers meant that we had what I felt was a very easygoing, intimate classroom. They tolerated my bad, visibly stressed days (of which there were a spectacular number this term) and buoyed me with jokes, smiles, and their precious little baby faces.
This is not my favorite subject to teach. I love my job and would never want to say anything here that would suggest otherwise, but if I had any and all choices to what to teach, this wouldn’t be it. Also, lots of people gripe about teaching freshman. A professor here whom I adore and respect told me that if someone never enjoys teaching and it always complaining about their students then you know the problem is with the teacher, not the kids. I think he’s right. I was lucky getting to teach the classes that I did. Maybe it was something about the time of day my classes were held or the rooms that they were in…but my kids were awesome. They are the best part of my job.
But teaching is draining. This term I taught in the early evenings, but once my class was over I just wanted to eat, watch television, and sleep. There’s some sort of mystical exchange that happens between teachers and their students. You give of yourself to them. They don’t demand it, but they need it. It’s so much more than just “being on” while you’re teaching–you actually are sacrificing of yourself in an invisible way that can’t quite be quantified or even rationally explained. You are totally and completely available to them, vulnerable in a strange way, and the best case scenario is that the students don’t exploit that and that they benefit from you in a symbiotic way. That ideal symbiosis definitely happened for me this term and I think that the comfort and openness you have with your students, while making you more vulnerable to exploitation, is also the only way you can be open to receive back what they have to give you. What I mean is that in order for their smiles, laughter, handshakes, nodding heads, and comments to be meaningful to you, their criticisms and ambivalence(s) are also meaningful.
I think the only way for teaching to be a sustainable, meaningful activity and occupation is for you to open yourself to it completely and anticipate the best.
Class of 2010, I will always remember you with love.