Even when I’m not writing here (which I didn’t in the Summer of 2012), I’m writing. I wrote proposals, reports, curriculum, letters of recommendation, emails (oh, thousands of emails), for other blogs, essays about writing for a collection, another essay on 19th century violent serial killer women (no kidding–THAT was a heck of a research project–folks in the hallway by my office wondered about me when I said things like: “No. I’m not working on poisoning at all. Poison is non-violent. I need to find violent women who shoot, strangle, or chop up their victims). And an essay on Tennyson and water in In Memoriam. I also wrote a lot for a book project I’m working on–a teaching memoir as I’m coming to think of it. I can’t figure it to be anything but that. Is that a genre or is it a teaching narrative I’m writing, like a literacy narrative, but about teaching? Who cares?
It’s about my teaching and why I teach and what that means and etc., etc., etc. I started teaching in high school–saturday afternoon how-to-be-Catholic classes for fourth graders. Then later in college, I taught dance for a few years. Then I started teaching college writing, and sixth grade, second grade, and a little bit of ninth grade. All my life, though, I loved playing school. Of course, I was the teacher. And very strict.
I really began teaching, or teaching writing, in 1992. So I’m officially celebrating my 20 years in teaching this fall (though, technically, I took off a few years to just write curriculum–but it WAS for teaching, and I trained teachers some). Twenty years. That’s more than 10,000 hours. You’d think I’d be an expert by now. Nope. I’m still learning.
I just got an email from a student who asked me to clarify an assignment. She was right. It was dodgy. Writing is so hard–even writing a simple assignment is hard.
And worse than anything, after twenty years of working really really really hard to make a living and finally find what I loved to do more than anything else in the world, I actually complained about having to teach for an hour and 15 minutes FOUR days a week. I should be forced to work on a roofing crew next summer for my hubris. Thank goodness I caught myself just as I was whining (and thanks to my interlocutor), or who knows what might have happened. I have the best job in the world. Really.
I love teaching. It’s both invigorating and thrilling. I learn something every class from my students. Often, I learn about myself. It’s not always good stuff I learn either, like I’m a sloppy first draft writer. So irritating. I want to bring the magic in the first draft, as if I were a magician juggling words and pulling full-blown exquisite sentences, paragraphs, essays from my top hat, making punctuation and mechanical errors disappear with a wave of my wand (which is purple and looks a lot like a piece of a cardboard rolled up tight–DIY magic).
I also learn, when I teach, that I love to discover new connections between things not normally associated. For some odd reason, this fall term I chose to conflate or put into conversation the series Firefly, the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and the Civil Rights Movement. Why? I have no idea. They were all just staring at me while I was working on my course plan for Honors Composition 1. So I went with it.
(AND then I thought, why not also use Firefly as a theme for my creative nonfiction writing class? I’ve been inspired by the series and movie to re-think the “devil in the details” of administration, or the perils of protracted administration. It’s a fascinating link I’ve been fiddling with connecting a space western with writing program administration. Why not let this filter through all my life this term and see what happens? I could be magnificent.
Or it could be the worst decision of my professional life.)
Sometimes when I teach, I also find that I am easily distracted… oooh, a shiny thing, I must pursue that… I know that about me and deal with it the best I can, but I understand it could be highly annoying for students. However, I’ve also learned to embrace it as I go places I might never go if I didn’t do that sort of thing.
Like this: I didn’t need to start reading the book series, A Song of Fire and Ice, two weeks before the fall term started. But I did. And I am addicted. I’m reading like a glutton whipping through chapters, then finding that I’m dissatisfied because I missed some nuance, going back and finding what I needed, then reading on, hurrying again, devastated by the action, driven to go on, intertwined with characters–and crushed when they are beheaded. WHY make me love a character, go deep into a character’s head, then chop it off, Mr. Martin, WHY? Like so many of the rabbit holes I come upon and pitch myself into, this one is more like therapy than real reading. I’m lost in the books because, perhaps, I need to be lost sometimes.
Teaching can be like that–being or getting lost in a class period. I find some of the most wondrous experiences of teaching are a blur to me now. I only remember that I walked away from classrooms many times thinking: Oh My Heavens, that was something incredible. Did we just do that? I LOVE this class. I LOVE these students. Every semester this happens and I think–I totally picked the right job/path/profession.
Except for that one class a couple of years ago. Ick. I was bound to have a bummer some time. I also had a bad experience teaching a class in Fall 2007. And in 1995. Or it might have been 1996.
So few have been harrowing, that I hardly think about them anymore. It’s the ones in the win column that I remember so clearly, the moments that feel like triumph, that smack of surprise, shock, wonder, and intellectual astonishment. Those are the things that should be part of every life and every job.
My students are the ones who do the most remarkable things–and they are who make me want to keep doing my job. They are the ones who recommend readings to me I’d never have found otherwise. They are the ones who tell me to listen to music I’d never listen to otherwise. They are the ones who tell to watch a movie or television series I’d never watch otherwise. They are the ones who teach me to stay open to new things, to understand that nuance is better than certainty, to appreciate the moment, even when the moment is fleeting.
I might always be writing, even when I’m not writing here. Even when I’m not teaching, I’m teaching–you know–it’s not something I can separate from now. And I’m always learning in my classes. It’s just what I wanted. What a gift. Every year since 1992, I have been blessed with the joy of teaching and learning. It seems so long ago and like yesterday.