I met a fresh graduate student in English a few weeks ago at an event near a large R1 that is excellent in many areas. I asked her if she was teaching and she said no, and she was very disappointed. She'd really like to get into the classroom: after all with so many bright and talented undergraduates who could ask for anything more fun?!
I tried to smile at her amazing enthusiasm. Why didn't I really smile?
I've heard from some friends who changed institutions this summer that it feels like the same job in a different office. They don't sound thrilled.
I am trying not to be old and crochety without reason. There are genuine thrills to teaching and success stories and other interesting incidents I could go on about for a while (but then I would not be anonymous!). The romantic image of molding young minds clashes so sharply with the feeling of sitting in the room doing calculus for a grade that it's painful, though, and I grimace instead of smiling. It's not unique to mathematics, and we can break through it to some extent in the classroom -- but it makes it hard to be innocently and freshly excited by the whole enterprise.
When I deal with individuals -- real people -- real students -- I feel much more interested in education and teaching. I can figure out if we're focusing on calculus, on anxiety around tests, on learning to learn. When I think about the larger topic of college teaching I get tired quickly. When I deal with many many individuals, a ceaseless stream of unique beings with their unique demands, I get tired even faster.
What allows for job satisfaction in teaching and what makes it feel like living with a nest of lampreys?