Classes at my community college start up again next week. But, for the first time in the last 8 years, I won't be in the classroom. I am taking a break this semester--with my husband's recent retirement, we are both trying out being fully retired.
I have the option to return to teaching next fall. While I certainly have not made that decision yet, it is possible that I have spent my last hours in the classroom. That prospect has me reflecting on a teaching career.
I first began teaching fresh out of graduate school. I headed off to graduate school immediately after college. While working on my master's degree, I wrote a note of appreciation to one of my favorite professors at my alma mater. I said--if there is anything I can do to repay you, let me know. His quick response--how would you like to come and teach for a year. As it happened, one of the English professors was going on sabbatical, and the English department needed someone to fill in for a year. That one year turned into my first teaching career of 8 years.
When I initially went into teaching, I was a young, green English instructor--all of 22 years old to my students' 18, 19, or 20 years old. Some of them had been just two years behind me in schooling. I had that wonderful combination of youth: audacity and blissful ignorance. It never occurred to me that I didn't know as much as I thought I knew. The first few months in the classroom, reading student papers, taught me more about grammar than anything else I had learned to that point. Nothing like reading papers that you have to correct to teach you proper writing.
Since the college where I was teaching had a small English department, I had the opportunity to teach a wide array of courses. In addition to composition, I taught American literature survey, the development of the English novel, Shakespeare, creative writing, and literary criticism. I was the first instructor to teach the latter two courses. You can see I had lots of room for academic creativity.
One of the high points of my first teaching career was participation in a grand educational experiment. The college faculty had decided to try to do integrated studies to meet the general education requirements. The resulting course was an amalgamation of literature, history, art, religion and culture. To prepare for the course, a faculty team worked during the summer to select content, plan the lecture sequence, determine who would deliver which lectures, and generally attend to the details for making the general education course work.
I loved this course. As faculty, we decided to focus on several key cultural periods in human history, and gather around those points the various emphases we wanted to convey. So, for example, we selected the Indus Valley civilization or the Tang dynasty, and then used those focal points to cover the history of the particular time, introduce students to elements of religion, as well as select some representative art and literature.
Variously referred to as Gen Ed, or Integrated Studies, the course lasted for about a decade. While the professors loved teaching the course, many students hated it. For a variety of reasons, the Gen Ed course was eventually terminated, and the traditional approach to teaching the basic course was reinstated.
Thus, my first reflection on a teaching career: I love learning and teaching afforded me a front seat opportunity to learn continually.
More reflections to come.