do i still believe?

I wrote this about 4 years ago. Apparently this was how I felt about teaching then.  I wonder how I feel about it now…

I believe in teaching.

Since I fell in love with English literature in the tenth grade, I have always wanted to be a college professor.  For my immigrant parents, this would be a dream come true: their daughter a professor of English!

My vision of professordom went something like this.  I am sitting in my corner office in an ivy-covered building, built in the 19th century, at a prestigious university.  I am leaning back in my chair with a copy of Robinson Crusoe, sipping coffee as I wait for students who are eager to soak in my literary brilliance.  I am also working on a book that will be read for hundreds of years to come as it will be considered “seminal” in literary criticism.  One day people will be doing Yooian interpretations of Daniel Defoe’s novels.  So, in order to achieve this professordom, I worked very hard through college and graduate school.

Since I have begun teaching English at a community college almost three years ago, however, I am beginning to see that my romantic view of this profession called teaching had been out of focus like Monet’s beautiful paintings.  In reality, I do in fact have a corner office, but it’s in one of the newest, very high-tech buildings on campus.  I drink so much coffee that my eyelids twitch and my stomach hurts – I think the acid is burning holes in my stomach.  I have a handful of students that come to my office hours, usually the day before essays are due and because I make them.  And I am definitely not working on a book.

I believe that teaching is not a job – it’s a lifestyle.  My dining room table has become my second office.  We don’t eat there.  I grade papers there, and I only clean it once a semester – at the end, after all the papers have been graded.  There seems to be no clear line between work and home.  I am answering panic-stricken emails from students at one o’clock in the morning.  Often I find myself, over tuna-casserole dinner, arguing to my husband that plagiarism in college should be considered a crime. “People should go to jail for stealing other people’s work!”

I’ll be honest.  There are times when I walk out of the classroom feeling like a giant vacuum cleaner had sucked the life out of me.  It takes hours and sometimes days to recover from a class that just didn’t go right.  Sometimes students can be unreasonable and the workload daunting.  When I discover a plagiarized essay, I go into a funk for a good while.

But most days my work makes me feel useful, and I feel that I am contributing to my small corner of the world.  If I can get one student to see a comma splice and if I can then get her to fix it, I know I’ve done my share of bringing a sense of peace to this chaotic world.  Nothing makes me happier than a student who, with a little help, revises a D paper into an A paper.  It only takes one “ah ha!” look on a student’s face to make me skip down the hall, energized all over again to face another day in the life of a community college English instructor.


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