Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Home stretch

I got through grading all the final projects for my Wednesday evening class. It was unexpectedly quite a pleasure to do. I had described to my students that my view of exams and assignments is that (at best) they should serve (like scenes in a good show) to propel the action, rather than interrupt it. The exams should not be simply assessing their mastery of what's come before, but should serve to further and deepen their understanding of the material.

With this project I feel that I truly did challenge the students to better understand the material of the course, to personalize it, to get under the hood so to speak. It does me good to feel I'm making a difference in their lives.

On Tuesday, at the beginning of class, I announced that the department secretary would be coming to administer the teacher evaluations at the end of the class. I said that I'd like them to be completely honest, because they'll mean far more to me than to the school, since I wouldn't be returning. There was an audible collective sigh, and a shocked, "You're not coming back?" "Why not?". I said I would take two minutes to explain, then leave it. I said that I found it abhorrent, disgusting, and insupportable that 55% of the faculty at their school were part-timers, underpaid, overworked, without benefits. I said that my choice to leave was not because I didn't enjoy teaching them, but about the institutional policies, and my personal priorities. They seemed truly disappointed, not so much with me, but that I'd be gone.

I got a nice email from one of those students today, explaining that they were all sad I'd be leaving, noting that they can all tell that I really care about them, about what they learn, and how it might apply to their lives, and thanking me for that. He said he truly hopes I continue teaching after I leave Lemon. It warms the heart. And saddens me a bit as well. For the moment, I have one last chance to continue teaching. I'm tired. If not Miwla, I'm walking away from academia, at least for a time.

One of my student's essays reported (a bit off topic, I might add) that she's spent the past 16 years in school, and how as she stands on the verge of graduating, she's a bit apprehensive about the world beyond. I know the feeling. But I've graduated, numerous times. I've walked in and out of those portals enough for the paths to be familiar. Different shapes, different materials, but somehow the same. I've heard the pomp of celebrations. And I've smelled the must of libraries. I've grown up with the computer technologies that surround us (I remember learning BASIC in middle school; I wrote papers on typewriters and "word processors"; I well recall my PC XT, on which I wrote my Master's thesis). The academy has been my world. But, when you've got one foot in and one foot out, it's only a matter of time before you step to one side, and close the door.

[I'm overcome with emotion, as I write that.]

1 comment:

Lilian said...

me too, me too. I'm reading backwards today, for whatever reason. I'd already looked at the final lines of this post days ago, but reading the whole thing really really resonates with me. Particularly only minutes after writing my last post that touches on some of the same issues.

I'm glad your student emailed you with those sentiments and that, above all, you had a chance to explain to them, even if very quickly, why you're walking away.

I feel sad and even regretful when I think of how I didn't really know that student evaluation could be so important for my academic career later on. It doesn't help that for most of my years teaching I knew "for sure" that we'd go back to Brazil so I didn't really worry about fitting in and learning the ropes of becoming an academic in this country. I guess this may one day cost me. I didn't teach with the thought that they were going to evaluate me, I was just myself. Silly, misguided me -- nobody explained to me how these things worked.