And This Is Why I Teach

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My stepfather is dying.  I hate even using the word “step” because in every sense of the word, he is my father.  And he will be gone soon.  He is in hospice now.  There is a hospital bed in my mother’s living room.  There will be no more emergency room last ditch efforts to save his life.  He is being “kept comfortable,” but is suffering and in pain.  Though some days are better than others, my stepfather is dying and won’t be with us much longer.

I bring this up because working and teaching in Wisconsin is difficult now, and has been for some time, but on top of the politics, policies, the demoralization, the constant questioning of whether or not I’ll have a job in a couple of years, the loss of friends, colleagues, and –well I’ve written quite extensively on this topic before— on top of this, my stepfather is dying.  To say that going into work is hard would be to deny the depth of how difficult it is to do my job right now.

I’ve often said that the classroom is my “happy place.”  The one place where I can be present; where I can forget about Wisconsin politics, committee meetings, campus and departmental bureaucracy, and just do what I love.  It’s that time of year where most of us are exhausted.  Where we have students who may just now be realizing they’re failing a class and asking for extra credit.  Where we’re already burnt out and we’ve still got 7 weeks left in the semester.  Where we’re counting the days to finals week because we are all so tired.  I’m in that space, too.  I’ve been there before.  But I am grateful, and always will be, to the students now and in the past who remind me why I teach.  Who remind me how much I love doing my job.  And who have clutched me out of the depths of sadness, especially this semester.

So this piece is a very giant thank you to those students.

The ones who write things so profound, you wish you’d have written them yourself.  Something like, “In the above passages from article, the author analyzes chastity organizations and comments on the social assumptions which emit from such clubs. The assumptions which these clubs present are those which wholly dismiss the fact that females have their own sexual agency. Fahs brings to attention the dichotomy which is present between the male and female sexes – being that boys have uncontrollable sexual appetites in which females are to resist. This belief dismisses the fact that females do have sexual agency in which they very much so have a sexual appetite. I chose these two passages due to the message which both exhibit pertaining to the dichotomy of sexual agency, or lack thereof. For myself, the assumption that females have their own desire to seek sexual pleasure – and not solely seek sex as an object of male desire – is not a revolutionary idea. Sadly, though, numerous individuals still seem it to be so, I chose this passage because the notion that females are still ‘revered’ as sexual objects in today’s era is simply astounding, if not absolutely terrifying for me to comprehend.”

Or this:  “This particular section in Hall’s article emphasized the notion that as a society we seem to care more about interrogating the assaulted rather than the perpetrator. I had not closely analyzed how the language used in anti-rape campaigns perpetuates the notion that rape can only be stopped by the potential victims. In my opinion, anti-rape culture, and campaigns specifically, symbolically annihilate the role of the rapist – instead, turning focus to how inevitable rape seems to be in society. I chose this passage because it exemplifies the way in which society has deemed rape as a woman’s problem, one which is ultimately unavoidable, and the rapist ceases to exist, both in the actual rape as well as in anti-rape campaigns.”

Or this: “Although this passage particularly sickened me, the authors highlighted that the concept of domestic violence is romanticized in our culture. That, through a cycle of abuse and what is called the ‘honeymoon’ stage, the males in question reinforce and reintroduce their hegemonic masculinity in today’s society to prove their masculine identity. The reason I chose this passage was in large part due to the way the individuals who posted the messages on Twitter seemed to not only mock Rihanna and Chris’ abusive relationship – as well as the prevalence and reality of domestic abuse – but somehow also welcome the idea of being beaten by Chris Brown. Reading the Tweets, I found myself questioning how anyone could fathom the idea of wanting – or wanting to be perceived as wanting – to be beaten by an individual or be in an abusive relationship with an individual. Going back to the aforementioned topic of domestic violence being romanticized, I wonder how society and media in particular have perpetuated the idea of abuse being romantic or seen as a way to reestablish masculine identity.”

I could give a laundry list of the incredibly intelligent, funny, curious, and wonderful insights my students have made over the years, but the point is that every day, they make them.  Every day, I experience their transformation–the light bulbs turning on or getting brighter–and there is such joy in those moments.

And it’s in those moments when I’m reminded of how much I love what I do.  The moments when you see a student you had in class only one year ago, angry and quiet, one year later handing out stickers to his classmates after his presentation because the subject matter was really difficult and he wanted to make sure everyone was ok.  Chatting with other students and making friends.  Experiencing joy perhaps for the first time in his life.

Those moments when you are deeply humbled.  When you’re upset about something so trivial and are quickly reminded of the personal hell some of your students have been through or are currently in.  Those moments when you just stop yourself and stare at them and wonder what miracle happened that they’re even sitting in your classroom.

Those moments when you cry on your way to work, and in your office, because your stepfather is dying and you’re thinking about how he’ll never get to hold your first child.  How he will never again share in those good days because he will be gone.  How all you want to do is spend every last minute with him because you’ll never get those minutes back.  And then you step into the classroom.  And hear the chatter of your students talking about how excited they are to take your classes next semester.  And sit through discussion after discussion of thoughtful conversation–meaningful discussions about social change and making the world better.  And you look around and suddenly you are filled with total gratitude.  You realize how goddamned lucky you are to be here, in this moment, witnessing your students grapple with incredibly difficult topics with grace and respect.

And this is why I teach.  Through it all, my classroom remains my happy place.  My students remain mini-saviors of my sanity and sadness.  So to you, dear students, thank you.  For every year, month, day, hour, and minute you’ve reminded me how lucky I am to do the work that I do.  Today was not the only day you’ve saved me and most likely won’t be the last.  Through it all, my life, my joy, and my happiness will rest largely in the parts you play in my life.  And for that, I am grateful.

4 thoughts on “And This Is Why I Teach

  1. I too am grateful for having such a wonderful professor like you. I’m beyond happy that I took your class. It has been such a great experience. I may be quite in class but my thoughts on the topics we discuss in class are loud. It’s amazing how my mind and eyes have opened about such topics and how much I have learned. I leave class and can’t wait to get home and talk about what we discussed in class. I rarely find myself feeling like this with any other class like I do with yours. This is the one class that I can truly say I feel comfortable in because of how accepting you all are. You may not know it but you too have saved me. You deserve the recognition. You will forever have an impact on my life and for that I am greatful. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Teaching is a Calling | Pilant's Business Ethics Blog

  3. Pingback: Teaching is a Calling - Pilant's Business Ethics

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