I’ve started reading College Misery. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. Every day, anonymous professors, adjuncts and instructors contribute posts that essentially vent about the worst parts of their jobs. Unsurprisingly, the worst part of their jobs, on many days, are the students. And as I read through the posts, I am struck by how familiar, how real, the situations they describe feel to me. I have taught theses students and classes full of these students before. Like an unending flood, the students keep coming with the same deficiencies when it comes to both their skill level and attitude towards education.
Inevitably, I think, every teacher asks themselves, do I really make any difference? As I went through and graded my students’ first major paper assignment, I wondered if my teaching really had anything to do with the quality of the papers, or if the good students would have earned an A whether they had attended my classes or not. And the poor essays, did my teaching and guidance make any difference at all for them? Am I making any impact on my students’ learning, or am I simply assigning and evaluating, awarding grades and credits?
Around and around it goes in my head. I don’t know why the same material that I taught last semester is producing such different results in me; last semester, I was invigorated, while this semester, I am despondent. What is the point of all this? Why not do what the university implicitly and explicitly tells us to do, which is to lower expectations, lower standards
, keep the kids happy, enrolled, and (eventually) graduated. But then I read about other professors who are as engaged and passionate about “activating the classroom
” and disrupting our assumptions as to how and where learning should take place (and why)
. We’re out there, teaching and writing about our experiences. And then I remember, I’m probably not nearly as brave (in terms of the risks I am willing to take in my classroom) as these professors, and given my position as a contingent faculty member, I can’t afford to be, either.
And then, something happens. I walked into my developmental writing class, and a student nervously tried to get my attention with a tentative, “They published my essay.” Which essay? Who? Turns out, he submitted his narrative essay
on an event in his life that shaped his attitude towards education to his local hometown paper and they published it. He was embarrassed because he was so proud of his accomplishment. I almost burst into tears in front of the class I was so proud of him. Imagine, a student goes from hating writing to being a published author, in no small part because of the work we’ve done in my class. I made a difference.
Any another post about teaching would probably end right here. But mine does not. I’ve written before about how teachers/instructors/professors are often coerced into accepting less pay because of the “psychic wage
” (via Marc Bousquet
‘s writing). And I am drawn to what Worst Prof Ever
has to say about teacher burn-out
and seeing teaching as a “vocation
” (especially the part of about divine calling; sounds a lot like what Freire was talking about, especially when you consider the original educators in the colonies were religious types). Has my own business stalled because I am too burned out from my own teaching? Have I crossed over from loyalty to desperation
, or at least into the realm where my devotion to my students outweighs common sense
To conclude, the answer to the first question, do I make a difference? Yes, I know I do make a difference for my students. Is it enough for me? I don’t know anymore.