Friday, September 28, 2012

Old & crochety: job satisfaction

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?

1 comment:

  1. I read that people tend to teach the way they are taught. Which, I'm afraid, means that boring teachers collect some responsibility for not only intellectual murder but also further destruction of the academia with further generations of poor teachers.