Yesterday, I decided to begin the semi-annual cleaning of our home office. In addition to all of the layers of dust that had accumulated, we had finally managed to fill up all of the space on the bookshelves and in our file drawers. So I decided that it was finally time to clear the file drawers of papers that I had not looked at for years and was unlikely to ever read in the future. These consisted of class notes and papers that were sometimes more than twenty years old, coming from classes that I had taken as both a graduate and undergraduate student.
While going through all of this stuff and chucking a lot of old class notes, I was struck by a couple of things. The first was that I apparently did a lot of hard work at times during my college career, and somewhere along the line I was able to become a good student. I also read several papers that I had written in various classes and rediscovered the fact that I was actually a pretty good writer. It also struck me that on some level, I actually enjoyed the whole process of creation way back when. The main thing that I did not like about college was the pressure of that constantly lingering deadline. To this day, the stress of that due date or upcoming mid-term has left me with little desire to enter a college class once again as a student. The older I get, in fact, the less desire I have to ever go back to school. I guess that I have reached a point where I feel that I have no need for school. If I want to learn something, I will go out and find a book or run a Google search. What do I need a teacher and all of those annoying assignments for?
The problem is that my current job no longer requires me to do some of the more difficult tasks that I was forced to do as a student. I have not, for instance, written anything of any significant length in years. The only things that I seem to write these days are e-mails, Facebook posts, power point outlines (most of which are already written), test questions, occasional handouts, and even more occasional cover letters for full-time teaching positions which come up every few years or so. Those skills that I developed as a student, then, are no longer being utilized.
At this point in my life, it is very tempting to just sit back and enjoy the fruits of my past labor. My teaching skills have developed to where I can more or less walk in to class, ask students where we left off, and proceed to teach a three-hour class with only my rough power point outline as a guide. I will then have plenty of time to hang out with my family, improve my racquetball game, keep up with the Lakers, fulfill my monthly allotment of music downloads, maintain my scrabble skills, and keep people informed about these daily activities by keeping that Facebook status updated. Why would I ever again choose to struggle with the incredibly difficult activity of writing?
It is very easy for a teacher to stop being a student, and in some sense I feel that this has happened to me. I don’t read as much as I would like, and I barely write anything at all. The curse of going to school, I guess, was also a blessing; school keeps you accountable, and it forces you to do things that are difficult. Teaching can also keep you accountable to a certain degree. You have to show up to class, take attendance – we still do that in community college – keep up on the grading, stay somewhat up to date on current events, read as much History material as you can, and touch up that power point outline every once in a while. Most of these activities, however, do not require that much in the way of higher level thinking skills, and with the exception of those already written outlines, they do not require the act of creation. In other words, they are relatively easy, much easier than a lot of the stuff I did as a student.
Do not get me wrong, I am not arguing that teaching community college is easy. Those early years getting the material straight in my own mind and fine tuning the presentation were very difficult. But after nine years of community college, and the previous, much more difficult task of dealing with junior high and high school students for seven years, my teaching skills are pretty well honed. I am obviously not perfect. There is always more material to learn and fine tuning to be done, but I can do a pretty good job for the next thirty or forty years – the retirement pension, after all, may dry up in the future – with a limited amount of effort.
So now what? I have had this sense for some time that something was missing, and I needed to find some way to mentally push myself. And as I thought about writing once again, ideas for what I could write quickly began to flood my brain. After all, these years of teaching experience must be worth something, and the most basic thing I have learned about education is that the only way to learn to educate is go out and do it. Why not keep a journal of some of the struggles I have faced and insights I have gained from doing this for so many years? If nothing else, it could be therapeutic for me. And given the fact that community colleges and universities are filled with average, every day adjunct instructors like me, maybe these “freeway flyers” can have one of their own sharing his stories and insights. Book writing seems to be monopolized by so-called experts, which is not entirely a bad thing, but maybe we should balance things out with the thoughts of a Cal State graduate like me without a PHD next to his name. After all, people like me are actually out there on the front lines teaching a large percentage of the students who take general education courses at the college level. Or maybe I will just write a bunch of stuff that sits on my flash drive, waiting for me to dig it up twenty years from now.