Classes started at Local U. last night. In the midst of all I’ve been through in the last four months, I had forgotten how much I love my job. Here, then, are ten things that I adore about my professional life:
1. I love my students. I’ve only just met this first batch (and will meet my high school students tomorrow), but I already love them. Some of them come to class with a sense of eagerness and excitement that I can see on their faces; others come to class convinced they are going to do badly. Some of them are bubbly and talkative; some have to be coaxed to tell me their names and one interesting fact about themselves. What is consistent is that they all come with such a wonderful range of experiences and potential, and I get giddy at the thought of sharing my discipline with them.
2. I love to read, and I love sharing the experience of reading with others. Since my book club fell apart, I’ve really been missing the joy I get from discussing themes and ideas and plots with other readers. That I get paid to do that as part of my job seems a little unreal to me.
3. I love reaching that one kid – the kid who is convinced that s/he’s a terrible writer and will never succeed in my class – and having them come out the other side of the semester a little less afraid to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I may not get to them all, but so far, I’ve been lucky in that I have reached at least one kid in each of the classes I’ve taught.
4. I love learning, and a huge part of my teaching practice is an exercise in exploration. I’m not afraid to teach things that I’ve never interacted with before. In fact, almost all of the readings I have lined up for this Freshman Writing class are pieces I’m reading for the first time. I think that a substantial part of my job is to model for students how engaged learners behave, and I consider it an enormous privilege that I get to learn right alongside them.
5. I get a kick out of watching a student discover what he or she really wants to say. Through the writing process, students get a chance to rework and revise their papers many times, and I’m delighted to see them come to the realization of what they really think. I nearly geeked right out last year when a student came to me, four days before a paper was due, to tell me that what he’d written was utter crap and that he wanted to abandon his topic and start again. Making discoveries about oneself as a writer is what I’m really hoping my kids accomplish during our time together, and this kid, in realizing that he could choose to ditch something that isn’t working, nailed it right out of the gate.
6. I love reading their notes to me. I try to establish a rapport of respectful camaraderie in my classes; I don’t want to come off as a stodgy authority figure, but neither do I want them to get too pal-y. I think I get that balance right most of the time. Part of what I do to maintain contact is to have the students periodically do informal in-class writing in which they tell me how they think they’re doing in our class; what’s working for them, what’s not, what they get and what they’re still struggling to understand. I respond to these notes in a sort of paper-based conversation, and I think that practice helps not only to keep me in tune with the proverbial “temperature” of the class, but also goes a long way to maintaining the kind of relationships I want to have with my students.
7. I get to be a part of a professional community. I have a lot – and I mean A LOT - of really top-notch colleagues at Local U. A couple of them I went to grad school with, some of them are new lecturers from other schools, and a few are former professors (and let me tell you; being thought of as a colleague by someone you once (and still do) look up to as an example of excellence in your field is quite a mind trip!). Each and every one of them (well, the ones I’ve been in contact with, anyway) is friendly, supportive, and just as excited about the discipline as I am. I get to participate in discussions, suggest lesson ideas, make criticisms about the program as it’s practiced, and be a part of a living, breathing community of writers, teachers, and thinkers. Wow.
8. I get to continue my own practice as a reader and a writer. For so many of my friends, a degree was something you got, put in a frame, and stuck on a wall; the things they “learned” as a means to earning that degree have no practical impact on the work they do now. I get to keep practicing, to keep honing my skills, and to use what I learned (and continue to learn) to help others on their own path toward facility with our language.
9. I get whole classrooms full of critics. Part of my writing practice includes showing my works-in-progress to others. Using my own work as an example of the writing process is an important part of showing my students that, even for people who consider themselves “writers,” words do not just fall off the fingertips and into the computer with slick, polished professionalism. Writing is often a messy, complicated, difficult prospect but, when the writer is dedicated to his or her craft, the end results can be incredibly satisfying.
10. I love seeing “old friends” in new ways. Sharing some of my favorite stories with students and having them share their impressions of those stories with me is one of the great joys of my work. Giving the students pieces that I feel I have an intimacy with – Frankenstein, Brokeback Mountain, The Last Samurai, The Sixth Sense – and listening to them interpret those pieces from their own unique point of view is incredibly exciting for me. Just when I thought I’d thought of everything there was to think about in a story, someone says “well, what about THIS…?” and I go right over the edge.