Saturday, April 28, 2007

Finished? So soon?

Was it really four months ago that I drove up the winding drive and started what I had pledged oh-so-long ago? Find an adjunct position at my beloved alma mater, Seton Hill. A New Year's Resolution penned January 2, 2006, just a week after losing my father. Sometimes I wonder if he had a hand in it, if he gave a little nudge to someone down here.

We like to believe that the dead can do that. It helps make the absence less real.

But this post isn't to conjure anything but the amazing sense of accomplishment (for lack of a better word) felt today as I left the Hill. Natalie Merchant's song Wonder came on when I hit the CD play button.

When it was first released, I misheard the lyrics.... laughed as she came to my cradle, oh this child will be able... laughed as my body she lifted, oh this child will be gifted -- with love, with patience, and with pain... she'll make her way...

The muse that comes to bless this child doesn't promise the gift of pain, I realized after a few listenings. She promises the gift of faith.

I like the first, the misunderstood version, better.

Call it a survival tactic, a way to maintain sanity perhaps, but I think that there is a certain gift that comes with pain -- the gift of strength. The cliche "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" means that you do experience everything unhappy. You do have moments when it seems that the world is falling apart and that you are a powerless nothing. You have moments when you aren't riding a wave but tumbling within it, drowning.

It allows you to have other moments, ones like today, when I finished my first stint as an adjunct. They called me "professor," even though -- technically -- I'm not. (Yet. I'll know in January.) Seems that I accidentally put that title on my course website. I don't know quite how I did that. I don't know how to remove it, either. (Then again, I still have trouble with the copy machine's stapling function.)

I'm going to miss this group. They were incredible. Attentive, prepared, literate, well-mannered... a teacher's dream. Virtually every class ended the same way: four o'clock would come too soon, and I'd walk to my car feeling as if I could conquer the world, humbly astounded at myself. Was I the same one who, up until last December, questioned whether or not I should remain a teacher or pursue that writing career? Should I admit to that?

This August will mark my tenth year teaching. Ten years is nothing in many respects. In others, it's astounding. My classroom stories from those ten years range from nightmarish to healing, the worst closer to the beginning -- as I suspect would be the norm for any career's learning curve. After all, how I reacted at 24 is no longer how I'd react at 34. Older and wiser, the survivor of a few crash courses in administrative politics and student threats, I know better when to stare adversaries down and when to retreat gracefully.

Seton Hill brought healing I didn't know I still needed. It brought self-discipline, too, which I knew I needed but could never quite manage.

A confession: I was terrified the first day of WCT I. Knee-shaking, white-knuckled terrified. Who was I , fourteen years out of WCT itself, to teach this class? What if I forgot something? Mistaught something from the book? What if they took one look at me and demanded a real teacher? Ten years is a blink. Every ounce of credibility I felt I had went into hibernation mode.

But, as you know, my panic was apparently for naught. If anything, the fear allowed me to grow as a teacher. I am a PowerPoint queen now. My binder of typed notes is four inches thick -- and that's without the fifteen corresponding PPT presentations with thirty or so slides each. (Yeah, pass the pocket-protector. I'm a nerd.)

...people see me, I'm a challenge to your balance... I'm over your head now, I astound you and confound you too....

I'm not so arrogant to think that I strike awe in people. Myself, yes. Others? Give me another decade and ask again. I am, however, pretty damn sure that I've confounded quite a few of you out there. And, if my students could tell you, I'm good at pushing people off balance with my two (in)famous questions: Why? and What if we're wrong?

I have one more, which I didn't use enough this term: What if we're right?

You know, it's easy to think about being wrong. Being right though... man, that's terrifying. It means that we might know what we're doing. I'm up for the challenge though.

So what now? Teach some more, write some more, apply for that Ed.D to become a real professor.

And have more fun then I ever thought possible. You know what? I think that dreams are coming true.

Thanks, gang. Watch out for that plaque.
You know why.

1 comment:

Dennis G. Jerz said...

Sounds like you've grown a lot. I think when students know that the class is affecting you as much as (you hope) it is affecting them, they take notice and it makes a difference.