I was recently talking to a graduate student who was nearing completion of his degree and I asked him what kind of teaching job he hoped to land. After we both laughed at the absurdity of this question in a job market such as this (“I will take any job offered to me!”), the student responded by saying that he wanted to work at a place that “will just leave me alone.” For those who are not familiar with this kind of academic-speak, let me offer a rough translation: “I want to be employed by a university that will not make me teach too much or make me do too much committee work or make me work too much with students outside the classroom and will allow me to pursue my intellectual interests and scholarship in splendid isolation.”
I must admit that I found myself–at least part of me–attracted to such a mythical job. Then I thought about it some more.
For the last month and a half I have been largely holed up in my home office trying to finish a book manuscript and blogging as a form of procrastination. The manuscript is nearly complete and my dedication to the blog has earned me many, many new readers. Professionally, it has been a productive time.
I start teaching again in one week and while I am dreading the prospect of trying to finish a book manuscript during the busyness of the semester, I am actually looking forward to getting back on campus more regularly. While I like rolling out of bed without showering and hunkering down at the computer screen for a day-long writing session, I now realize, after ten years of teaching, that I can’t sustain this kind of life for long stretches of time.
The enjoyment I get from working at a teaching college really has little to do with how much or how little I teach. Instead, it comes from being present in the life of an academic community. Some of my colleagues might chuckle at the idea of me being present. I don’t consider myself the most sociable member of the Messiah College faculty in terms of eating lunch in the faculty lounge, or attending public lectures on campus, or connecting with students outside of the classroom. I am also quite guarded with my time so that I can complete the writing and scholarly projects I need to complete. (A lot of this will change as I become department chairperson in the Fall). But I do not think I could live without the daily engagement with other human beings–colleagues and especially students–that takes place at a small, residential, liberal arts college. Granted, there are times that I want to be “left alone,” but there are other times when I need the energy of a vibrant student body. From September to December and then again from January to May, I get to feel a little more human and hopefully, as I ply my trade, make others feel more human as well.