Off on another adventure..but first, an extended ramble about the Paradox of R1 Teaching

…of sorts. Just finished my last day of the 2011-2012 school year, and got a kind email from a student insisting that my class was what enabled him to have a “functional” level of German (this is most certainly not true; more a case of confidence than skills).

My relationship with teaching is simultaneously so simple–I FUCKING LOVE IT! AND IT LOVES ME!–and fraught: that is, to be a successful professor at a research university, you have to do a delicate dance about your teaching. You have to tolerate it just enough so that you don’t get bad evaluations, but you cannot ever admit to liking it as much as your ever-important rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrresearch, those revered articles and books that might, if you’re lucky, be read by a hundred or so people in your entire lifetime.

Whereas in a normal teaching career you can easily meet (and ostensibly influence) 100 or so new young minds a year, minds connected to people, people whose lives you actually have the potential to change. I know this because by far the most influential people in my youth were teachers and professors, and I would absolutely not be anything like I am today if it hadn’t been for some good ones, and for some weird ones as well.

But, so, anyway, there’s another layer to the complicated dance: to the powers that be (your Chair, the Dean, any Search Committee you may come into contact with), you have to be positively effusive about your students and about your innate love for teaching–but you have to do this knowing that it should be apparent as a ruse/exaggeration, masking your actual disdain for wasting your valuable brain time attempting to touch the lives and souls of dudebros and emo kids (and the rare hybrid em-bro).

So, to review: to be a successful R1 prof, you have to actually hate teaching but pretend to love teaching. Thus, for many of us who actually love teaching (and I’d say that the vast majority of us do!), the dance complicates, because we have to pretend we are pretending to love something we actually really love. No wonder we have to be so smart, this shit’s hard to keep up.

Anyway. Although I won’t miss the relentless Midwest humidi-waves, I will, as I always do, miss interacting with students all summer. I’ve looked forward to the first day of school more than the last day of school since I was old enough to go shopping for supplies and clothes in anticipation of another year of (usually) easy homework and tweenaged crush-staring, and now that I’m on the other side of the desk in the front of the classroom, the only difference is I look forward to the school supplies and the actual learning.

Sure, I’m grateful I don’t have to grade anything for the next two months (it’s a short summer this year, as my unnamed institution transitions from quarters to semesters, again making it pretty near impossible not to know where I am, NEVER MIND, I AM ANONYMOUS!), but I’m also so excited about my fall courses I can barely sit still.

And yet, I do also…er, harbor a sort of perverse codependent love for my rrrrrrrrrrrrrresearch, albeit in a much less effusive and much more tortured sort of way. I love my teaching like I love a puppy–it is at times chaotic and time-consuming and puts much of my life beyond my control, but at other times so adorable and life-affirming that I almost burst. My research is like Chuck Bass without all the money, or Jordan Catalano if he could sort of read. In short bursts it is the best thing that has ever happened in my life, like riding on a rocket ship through a cocaine factory (wait, is cocaine made in factories? I have never tried cocaine and never will, unless they re-add it to Coca-Cola, although even then probably not), so exhilarating that I could rip my own face off, mold it into a more attractive and younger face and stick it back on without so much as a scar. But for 350 days out of the year it is a trudge through a mud field beginning to harden into a parched desert wearing hand weights and with only vinegar to drink.

All right, the metaphors have mixed so irrevocably now that I have to stop.

That said, two days from now we’re off on another mini-adventure; my significant other will be attending a summer program at a renowned design school, learning about urban planning and design, and I’ll be sequestering myself in the US’s most effete and elitist college town, getting as intimate as humanly possible with Chuck Bass/Jordan Catalano, trying to make the most of my time away from teaching and accomplish the seemingly unthinkable: I’ll try to finish a passable draft of my book; to complete research for two different chapters in two different edited volumes; to finish and submit to journals an article; to re-read the 1000-plus page Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. In the midst of all this I’ll get to return to my beloved New York (as I usually do, during its sticky season) for a few days to visit friends, and have the occasion to think about how much everything has changed since I started writing this blog nine years ago (one of my students the other day referred to a blog begun in 2010 as “sehr alt,” very old, and I was like HAHAHA I’ve had one since you were TEN YEARS OLD).

That’s Entertainment!

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