I miss it a lot. I mostly miss the kids and how funny they were and how much I enjoyed being around them. I miss how curious and interested they were in things I’d long since taken for granted, and I miss how they drew me into being more curious too. I miss their subtle expressions of gratitude and affection. It’s not cool to flat-out tell the teacher that you enjoy her lesson plans and appreciate the effort she puts into her job. But they found roundabout ways of telling me those things.
The other day, I missed Hamlet–like, as in the fictional and emotionally unstable prince of Denmark. I missed him like he was a favorite weird cousin I used to see for two and half weeks every year and don’t see anymore.
I miss having a clearly defined job to do: teach *this* content to *that* group of kids. Here are your books; have a nice year. At the end of the day, for better or for worse, I could say I had done my job.
I miss knowing that my work mattered. I rarely got into bed wondering, “did I actually contribute anything to the world today?” Of course I contributed. I showed kindness and love to a group of vulnerable humans, gave them important knowledge and skills, and helped guide them into being solid adults. Even on bad days, I did these things.
It’s tougher when the answer to the question, “did I contribute anything to the world today?” is, “Well, I contributed about four and a half pages of fairly lousy prose that will never see the light of day, except for my exam committee. Also, I entered some data on some spreadsheets.”
I miss who I was as a teacher. I was more confident and capable. I was more positive and upbeat, because I had to be head cheerleader, getting teenagers excited about old books and long papers. Even on days when I felt down, teaching would bring me up.
To be a student is to be in a place of near-constant uncertainty and vulnerability. You’re never sure of where you stand with your profs and committee, whether your work is good enough. Every day, you’re learning how much you don’t know, and you’re surrounded by people eager to further prove your ignorance. Student-hood is temporal by design. It’s not an end unto itself, but a means of getting Somewhere Else. That unsettled, temporal, transitory feeling rests over every endeavor, as I sit quietly reading or recording notes at a meeting or quietly hunched over my laptop. Also, I miss my good posture and my clear voice.
In some ways, I feel like this summer is a short sprint of lonely writing before the marathon that will be my dissertation. How in the world will I sit and write alone for an entire year or more? I know that this season of life is temporary, and that one day in the not-so-distant future, I’ll be back in a classroom, my desk piled high with papers, probably longing for the blissful, easy days of being a doctoral student (because that’s just how we “grass-is-always-greener” humans tend to roll).
In the meantime…I miss teaching.
P.S. Things I don’t miss? Grading. Classroom management issues. Standardized tests. Some parent-teacher conferences. The week before final exams. Faculty meetings. Okay, so there are a lot of things I don’t miss too.