In a little thing I wrote really for myself about 4 years ago, I described my view of teaching – mainly it was about how my Monet-like image of “college teaching” was completely brought into focus by a few years of teaching at a community college.
I wondered… do I still believe these things?
I still have the same office, and I still drink a lot of coffee – although the last few months I’ve had to switch to decaf since I’m expecting our second son in November. I continue to see a handful of students who come to visit my office hours. And I’m STILL not working on a book – although one of my close friends (Sarah, who is also a community college English teacher) and I’ve always talked about writing an etiquette book for our generation.
However, a few things have changed.
First, what really changed was having a baby. My son is now 3 years old. Since he was born, I’ve put a few others things into focus. I “clock in” at 8:30 and “clock out” at 5:00 pm and try to get everything done during those hours. Of course, outside those hours I think about teaching, education, writing, literature, my students, outcome, assessment, and etc. and etc. and etc.
Second, over the years I’ve realized how much I’m annoyed by movies about teachers who sacrifice EVERYTHING for their teaching, for their students. Teaching is a way of life, yes, but it is also a profession. You can’t clock in and clock out, for sure. My brain is wired as a teacher all the time. Still, the idea that the best teachers are teachers who completely lose sight of their personal lives and dedicate themselves 100% (or 110%, as my students so love to say) is just unrealistic and unfair. Or maybe I’m just not ready to make that kind of sacrifice… and am kind of jealous (?) of such teachers? I don’t know what it is. All I know is that I’m annoyed by these movies – I couldn’t believe that the teacher in Freedom Writers gave up her marriage (to McDreamy!) for the sake of her teaching career.
Third, my work at the college has expanded so much beyond my classroom teaching… or perhaps “exploded” is the better word? Here’s the truth: I spend more time doing administrative work than I do actually teaching. Most of my day is spent reading, answering, and writing emails. I’ve been wondering… before email, what did people do all day in their offices?!?! I am not complaining here exactly… I see importance and value is the work that I do both in and out of the class. I’m just saying that a day in the life of a community college professor goes so much beyond the classroom.
As I matured, my perspective on teaching (I hope) has also matured – broadened and grown. But the following is still very true:
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.
At the heart, I’m still an English teacher, and my satisfaction comes from the small things. When a student finally learns to stop saying “you” in her academic essay I feel an immense sense of satisfaction. If I have a really fruitful one-on-one writing conference with a student and he can finally see that his sentences are run-on sentences, oh dear Lord, I can milk joy out of that for days and weeks. Last week when my students discussed “Harrison Bergeron” and made some sophisticated connections with “The Lottery,” I couldn’t stop grinning for hours after class. And really, I guess that’s what it all comes down to – this business called teaching.