Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cleaning out my office: who would have thought it would be so hard?

I have been cleaning out my office and, in the process, reliving my life at CCP. I decided I would reduce the contents of my office  to two boxes and I am almost there.

There’s a whole lot to throw out. I’ve accumulated 35 years of teaching materials, and for some inexplicable reason have saved all kinds of memos. I’ve unearthed various memos on issues I once cared about. I no longer have the same degree of passion or even interest and very few are worth recycling, but when I looked at the file labeled “Faculty Senate,” I hesitated before throwing it into the overflowing trash can. This is one issue I'd like to address one more time before I hand in my keys and walk out the door. Who would have thought that this issue would still matter to me when all those hard fought fights about curriculum are of so little interest?

At my college we do not have a faculty body independent of the union and I’ve always thought that my professional live was the poorer as a consequence. I’ve never bought the assumption that every educational issue is a union issue and believe there is a real tension between my identity as an educator and my identity as a union member.

So I sent my last memo, but somehow the College’s email program or the union’s listserv doesn’t want to receive it. Is this a sign, I should just give up on this??

Monday, May 18, 2009

Turning in my last set of grades

Last Tuesday, a few minutes before the midnight deadline, I turned in my last set of grades. Making all those judgment calls is the absolutely worst thing about teaching.

 I’ve often envied my husband who teaches math. I should say taught math—it’s past tense for both of us. His grading system is clear, objective, much more easily justified than mine. There’s a right answer and a wrong answer.

 Grading in Women’s Studies, Humanities, English is unavoidably subjective. I really try to be fair, but my biases inevitably creep in. How do I factor in class participation in a way that that’s fair, impartial?  How do I justify a C grade for student X and a B for student Y?  And then Student Z has been dealing with so many problems this semester; shouldn’t this be taken into account in some way???   I am so relieved that I never have to go through this again.

 I may have made a real contribution to grade inflation this time around, but since I’m retiring I don’t have to worry that I am sliding down the slippery slope in which A becomes the default grade.

 Teaching can be fun; evaluating students’ performance is always a headache. Ironically although I have spent decades evaluating students, I myself have never been evaluated. I have been teaching at the College since 1974 when I began as part-timer. I was hired full time in 1977, so have spent a total of 35 years teaching at the College and never has anyone entered my classroom to evaluate my teaching.  Never has anyone evaluated my syllabi, course outlines and made suggestions for improvement.

I must admit it was kind of nice to close my classroom door and do whatever I wanted. Would I have been a better teacher if someone had visited my classes and evaluated my teaching? Probably. Thanks to an uncompromising union  and an often cowardly management we have no meaningful evaluation system, and I have ended my teaching career without anyone EVER evaluating my classroom performance.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

My last class

I had wondered if I would feel any sadness about teaching my last class, any tinge of regret.

Fortunately, my last class was my best one this semester, my Community Involvement class. I have some terrific students in that class and everything went well, but my feeling at the end of the day was pure relief. I’ve gotten through my last semester, did a decent (if sometimes uninspired) job and ended on a good note.

 If I had stayed on any longer, there’s a chance that my last class might not have gone so well. If I stayed a year or two, I might have started screaming uncontrollably when a student answered a cell phone in class.  There’s also a good chance that I would have cancelled quite a few classes out of sheer exhaustion.

 So no regrets about leaving teaching.  Just relief that I got through the semester.

 I still have mountains of papers to grade, but the performance part of the job is over.  Although I have lost interest in teaching the same courses I’ve taught for many decades, and have totally lost interest in the pedagogical issues that were once an all–consuming passion, when I’m in the classroom I usually enjoy the interaction.

As my husband put it, you’re like a professional actor in a long running play,  Women’s Studies 101. You’ve done it a million times, but like a good pro, when you walk into the classroom something clicks and you perform.

 It may be like this on other jobs as well. I was telling my dentist about this and he said, “It’s kind of like the practice of dentistry. I’m getting bored and sometimes don’t want to go to work, but when I get there and interact with the patients, it’s fine."

 The anticipation was always so much worse than the reality. The past few years I was beginning to dread going back go work when September rolled around. In August, I felt like a condemned prisoner counting down the last few precious days. But then I got back into the groove and  managed to get through.  My guess is if I had stayed, it would have been a whole lot harder to get back into the groove (harness?)

 So, bottom line, I got out at the right time, well before total burn-out.