On teaching and the business of loving teaching.
My job, like most jobs, is many. I’m a researcher and writer of sorts, and an occasional translator. My program is self governed, which makes me at times an administrator and policy creator, though usually in a low-level highly-collaborative sense. On a daily basis though, I’m a teacher, which makes me also an accidental and very poorly trained life coach, support structure, counselor, disciplinarian, and a whole host of other roles that are a bizarre combination of personal and professional.
It’s the week after spring break, and every year this is a tough time at the university. The break has given everyone a taste of Summer, even those who don’t have summers off. The staff in my building don’t look happy to have us all back. It’s noisy and chaotic, and everyone is giving someone a cold. My students have been with me and with each other now since August. Every class has its motley crew of friendships and estrangements. Few students realize how easily observable they are from the front of the classroom, but I can see closer relationships developing among students. Just as readily I see the glares of students who are harboring carefully thought out and never articulated grudges for students on the other side of the classroom. They’ve seen a lot of each other this year.
In the classroom, we’re all in it together, which is simultaneously a support structure that I see very few places in the world, and a long run in which we get to know each other a little too well. Since yesterday I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching and about what it means to love teaching. In a discussion about the experiences we hope to provide in the classroom, one of my colleagues suggested that our business is the cultivation of a love for a life of thought and of pleasurable introspection. It was a simple and elegant suggestion, the sentiment of which prompted another colleague to say “that makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth.”
I immediately felt tremendous affection for both of them.
I spent the rest of the day wondering what it means to teach. It’s a sentimental choice of profession that invariably demands practicality to execute well. It’s a job I love doing, in spite of often tremendous resistance from students, and what I currently think of as the Long Dark Springtime of the Soul.
This morning I returned to my earlier quote from Donna Haraway’s lecture at IU in 2006. I believe what Haraway, and if she’s right, if love is a processes of learning, then it stands to reason that love might also facilitate that process. This is not logically sound (not of the first-order variety anyway), and I value practicality. I’m willing to concede, though, that sentimentality might also have its place.