Martin Luther King day still makes me a little stressed. I woke up this morning thinking of all the things I needed to get done (basically NOTHING) then realized I’d had another teaching dream. You see, spring semester begins tomorrow. You can’t walk away from 35+ years of habit.
Spring semester was always my least favorite. The best part of it was the advent of daylight savings time which meant I no longer drove home in the dark. Spring semester was endless where fall semester was always a neatly packaged 12 week travail that slowed down gracefully after Thanksgiving. One Spring semester was 16 weeks long broken in the middle by Spring Break from which no one recovered. One year I had such denial about spring semester that I forgot to go to my first class on Tuesday. My schedule had been flipped and flopped a couple of times by THE POWERS and I forgot I had a 1 pm class, not a 2 pm class as per usual. Anything to throw those part-time teachers off balance… I showed up late, but I showed up.
In the wee hours of this morning I dreamed about setting up my Blackboard online materials without knowing my new login. This is not cool as it’s now been 6 spring semesters since the last one. I doubt I will ever recover 100% from teaching. The flame on the torch I carried so long wavered, sputtered and went out, but the memories…
I’ve learned a lot about myself as a teacher since I retired and have had the chance to look back on those years from a little distance with more knowledge of myself. When we have to earn a living, and we only have ONE marketable skill (or believe we do), we might tell ourselves we’re passionate about what we’re doing, but what we’re passionate about is having a roof over our heads and food in our mouths. Still, I loved the classroom. I enjoyed reading essays. Business Communication, when it arrived in my life and I got a handle on it, gave me the chance to learn so many skills I wouldn’t have. I learned a lot about my personality from those relentless extraverts.
The biggest thing I taught my students I was not doing myself, and that was knowing my audience. At the end of my career — for the final four or five years — I just knew I didn’t like it any more, but I didn’t know why. I did not know how tuition had gone up, the pressures on my students financially and the pressure from their families. I didn’t understand why parents were suddenly so involved. I didn’t know what was going on in lower levels, elementary and secondary school, how that was changing from something that nurtured independent thought and problem solving to test-based curricula and no recess.
I think I was also tired from teaching so much for so long. I wanted a life of my own, but I had no time or resources. Back then, in the spring of 2014, I wrote;
I don’t know how other people feel when they reach this point of life. Maybe the way I feel is universal. Maybe all teachers teach to the point at which they are no longer effective; for some, I’m sure, this would be two semesters. For me it’s been more than 35 years. I wonder if all retiring (or quitting) teachers feel like a failure, because I definitely do. I can see that — as with my writing — I’ve missed the “zeitgeist” completely and that all around me is taught, and valued, what I regard as complete bullshit. I’ve even reached the point, the moment, that I can say, “I’ve been wrong all along.”
Teaching is really about maintaining society. Writing is really about Introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. It’s not about the expression of ideas; it’s not about learning the skill that will best serve that task uniquely every single time. It’s not about patience and discipline and the joy of discovering a thought. Helpful criticism given to students garners furious emails; students furious at themselves, students furious at me, bosses upset that I was not more “supportive” (what is not supportive about “let me know if you want to talk this over. I’ll let you revise it”?).
I was aware how my attitude had changed, and I wrote about that, too. By the time I retired, writing textbooks were formulaic and teachers’ editions had directions as piss-ass and nit-picky as, “Now tell your students to pick up their pens…”
I now not only cringe when my students say, “But what about my body paragraphs?” I get actively infuriated. “What IF it’s not body paragraphs? What IF it’s something important you have to say?” It is not about that for them. It is about body paragraphs. They are so bonded to the five paragraph essay that they will write them even if the entire essay is 10 pages long… Five long ass meaningless meandering paragraphs. Who taught them this? Who taught them this way? I no longer understand the people I work with and I am pretty sure I don’t share their values.
The scariest and most prescient thing I find in this old blog entry is this:
“I think the world today — in my life time — has undergone or is undergoing a revolution as cataclysmic as any in human history. We might not look at it (I don’t look at it) but people and/or their souls are dying all over the world all the time for the progress of this vague dark thing that is the future.”