Back in the saddle

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I guess I really shouldn’t have called it a comeback; my supposed return to blogging hasn’t exactly resulted in prolific posting. This is partly due to a desire to go lighter on the fluff posts, but also because the day after I finished the semester I started working, and the schedule there has been more intense than I’d expected.

It’s a different kind of intense than what I’m accustomed to. 10-12 hour days, and on-site, but self-contained. I’m savoring that last bit–for me, a lot of what makes academic work stressful is the never-ending, boundary-less nature of it: there are always several projects in the queue, and what’s to stop you from continuing to think (i.e. work) about any of them in the car, or the bathtub, or in bed at night? To say nothing of planning and grading, on the teaching end. Boundary-guarding being a cornerstone of my philosophy of life, I can come to resent even the aspects of the work that I most enjoy as I watch them spill out into my precious non-working hours. So the work I do for this job, being highly structured and finite, is a welcome break. I  know exactly what needs to be done, and once I’ve done it I can go home and recharge.

More than that, though, I have students again. That has made me happier and more invigorated than I’d have thought to expect. The kind of relationships that can be built between teacher and students, even in the very nontraditional model under which I’m working, are incredibly gratifying to me. Although I had a teaching assignment this past year, I was a latecomer to a program of which the students were already a part, and was never really given the space or freedom to do what was necessary to gain their confidence. The reasons, valid and otherwise, for these decisions are less important here than the fact that this added up to me never really feeling like they were “my” students, or that they saw me as their teacher. It wasn’t bad, per se, certainly not antagonistic, but it felt empty and not like the kind of teaching I ever want to do. I firmly believe that the so-called “soft skills” are a big part of what makes an effective educator, and I know this to be true in my own case. Not being positioned to really put those skills to use killed this past year for me. Being able to use them now, and seeing how students respond to that, goes a long way toward not only fostering my deep and genuine enjoyment of what I’m currently experiencing but also, in seeing just how badly they were choked off by programmatic (i.e. external) strictures, toward rediscovering and reaffirming my confidence in my own abilities.

(Not for nothing, but man, it’s nice to feel happy again.)

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