Oh. Right. Grading student essays. I almost forgot how this felt.
After stepping off a plane two weeks ago and moving right into a three-day PD workshop, I haven’t really had time for the typical bemoaning of the end of summer. No ritualistic last day celebrations. No symbolic funerals for the summer sun. Just the quick passing of one phase of life for another.
This is probably best for me. Teachers can be downright cranky about the end of the summer, worse than the students sometimes. At least students can claim the excuse of compulsion. Legal or parental, they will argue, this is not their choice. The argument from necessity.
Teachers try this trick sometimes. We have to go back. And sure, in contrast to a whirlwind vacation, honeymoons, or even lying on the couch binging Bob’s Burgers, rising before the ass-crack of dawn, putting on “real shoes”, and being conversant and authoritative over teenagers can seem something of a drudgery. So, up we rise, if somewhat resignedly, to face our destiny. Sometimes, you just gotta get up to make the doughnuts–our own argument from necessity.
These were the type of arguments that used to piss Sartre off before he became a full-blown Marxist. Acting from “bad faith”. Acting like you have no choice. Making excuses so you can bemoan you life. What a slow, sludging march the grave. I know. Sounds depressing. But too many days where you get up and go to work because you have to eventually leads to a life that you meet begrudgingly, morning after morning.
But I can’t say I don’t embrace necessity at some point. When I was twenty, I had accepted a NC Teaching Fellows (May it Rest in Peace) to school, but was still unsure that this is the path my life would take. And somewhere in a dark night, after drinking entirely too much coffee, after reading entirely too much 17th century British Literature, I knew that my life would somehow serve in the vein of transmitting knowledge to the younger generation.
At different points in my life, I’ve fought this idea that this was my place in life. Other friends have left the profession for more lucrative or at least less stressful occupations. What can seem like daunting futility in trying to reach an unwilling audience can breed a special spark of soul-crushing nihilism. Sometimes the flashy cars you’ll never drive and the jet-set life you’ll never live becomes more confrontational than you’d like. And if you’ve put in the years, the thought of jumping ship and starting a career anew sounds like a poor financial decision on top of a daunting existential one.
So, resignation becomes a weird form of gallows humor, a sarcastic protection against the struggle. Teachers know how many years they have to retirement on command (13, in case you’re wondering). We can get cagey against change because the old and familiar is so…well…old and familiar. After all, we’ve got all the lessons down, so why do more work?
For me, however, I suppose I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where teaching still fulfills my intellectual curiosity. Sunday morning before the first day of school, I lay down in yoga class, and the last thoughts on my mind before it emptied for a bit were all the strands of thought and idea that I had for my class this year, brimming with possibility, busy but not anxious. That evening, I took my kayak out to paddle on the waters in a bit of solitude. Not because it was the “last day of summer”, but I wanted some time and silence to prepare my mind for the next day. When Monday rolled around, I woke excitedly. (I can’t say I’ll still be doing that in November, or even next week for that matter). And by 8:00, I thought about what I was going to get to talk about for the next four hours. Theorizing about democracy in Philosophy. Analyzing Speilberg in film. Discussing rhetoric and speech in English. God, I’m such a dork, but this sounded exciting to me at 9 in the morning. Say what you will about this job, but it is rarely monotonous.
I don’t want to get preachy and say we should relish our opportunities or that our day is what we make of it or attitude makes all the difference. Because that’s the kind of stuff that makes up cheesy affirmational yoga blogs, the kind of talk that makes people want to punch you in the grill, especially if you pull it before they’ve had their morning coffee. But for all the crappy back to school ads, for all the late sleeping in the middle of the week that I won’t see until next summer, for all the blog posts postponed two weeks and completed only after two hours of grading essays, I’m trying to embrace the ups and downs of the struggle, in all its absurd glory. At the least embracing this life in all its foibles is worth a good chuckle at least once a day.
Here’s to the new year, fellow teachers: 11 down, 169 to go.