Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A return to teaching

Today, after my morning writing session, I head to the office to firm up plans for my spring classes and start finalizing my syllabi. Our semester at UCA begins on January 14. I greet this semester with uniquely mixed feelings. Last year, after ten years of full time university teaching (i.e., a 4/4 load) I was feeling the first singes of burn out. But for last fall I was granted a sabbatical, which allowed me weeks of unbroken concentration on my novel and a chance, in larger ways, to regroup, even to begin new initiatives--like this blog. Now, with my sabbatical over and facing full time teaching again, I certainly am wistful for the lost free time but neither am I bitter. I can't be. If anything I feel blessed. While on sabbatical, my novel took huge and important strides forward. It's on a course now to be done; maybe even done soon. More importantly, I feel existentially rested and ready to teach again.

I've never subscribed to the easy, self-serving equation that separates attention to teaching from attention to writing and publishing, as if one could somehow aspire to teach a subject that one does not actively engage in every day. If I were a student I'd want to know that my professor doesn't just talk a good game but actually practices what he or she preaches. I would listen to the ones who do, and keep an arm's length from the ones who don't. And, as it turns out, that's exactly how our students do think. They get it. And speaking from the other side of the metaphorical podium, I have to say in the process of preparing for and teaching four sections a semester, I probably get even more out of the classes than my students do. The writing I do with them in class I take as seriously as any other I do in my life. In fact, several published stories and poems have started in UCA classrooms writing along with my students after I have handed out prompts. In the textbooks I've used over the years, I've discovered stories and poems by other writers that will stick with me forever. And in the writing of critiques for my students' work I've enjoyed discovering exactly what is I think and believe.

No, I'm not looking forward to the bureacratic hurly burly of office life: the endless protocol of meetings to attend and reports to file (yes, we have those in academia as much as anywhere), the clash of egos, personalities, and personal agendas that inevitability rears its head at any human institution. But I can never regret engaging a group of students about the act of writing: its pleasures, its challenges, the walls of useful suggestions surrounding it, and at the same time its utter lack of rules. I can never regret see those thrilling pieces of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry young authors generate. I can never regret the learning and the fellowship that occurs during the give and take of workshop. No, I don't and could never regret our students, who are so shrewd, canny, and talented--way more than I was at their age--that it's humbling to be called their professor. The completion of my novel awaits, but a return to teaching can only make that completion a better, sharper, more learned endeavor. So don't worry about me. I'm ready.

1 comment:

  1. did you see the article on Van Gogh and Gauguin and the ear in the Jan 4 New Yorker? If you don't have it, I can bring it to school for you.