About a week ago, I taught my last class for the quarter. I am grading my last set of papers, and tomorrow I will post my last set of grades. I will sort through, discard or pack away my teaching materials and notes. I have a box filled with article clippings, Post-It notes, napkin notes and hastily sketched diagrams for the textbook I was writing that never got past Chapter 3. I’ve been standing in the front of a classroom,
chalk, dry eraser marker, laser pointer, projector remote in hand at least one day per week, every week for the past twelve years.
But, it’s time for a break.
I thought I was mentally prepared for this break. As a practical matter, it is necessary. I just do not have the time needed to do a proper job of teaching these classes with all the kids have going on and with my (not part-time) work schedule. But, on a more personal level, I need a time-out. I could feel myself losing patience with students now and again. I have lost my patience with this idea of treating students as “customers” or “consumers” to help increase program enrollment in an increasingly competitive higher education market. I was less and less able to avoid procrastinating on the grading of papers, and the feedback I provided felt too light. I stopped reading my usual plethora of articles on teaching, learning, legal technology and legal research. My draft textbook wasn’t the place I went to “get away” from my other work anymore. Instead, it felt like “more work.”
But, on my last night of class, as I gave my usual end-of-the-quarter, thanks-for-being-here, final-exam pep talk, I couldn’t stop the tears. Oh, don’t panic. It’s not like I got ugly-cry-face in front of my students or anything. I just got a little misty. One reason is that this particular group of students was amazing. No whining, no complaining, lots of participation, good collective sense of humor, truly engaged. It’s hard not to think the Fates sent me a message I am about to ignore. Another reason is that I will actually miss teaching – the lectures and group activities where the student-teacher interaction lends itself to the proverbial light-bulb flickering, flickering, flickering then finally shining with all its wattage. It is thrilling to watch that happen. I do, in fact, get goosebumps, and I will miss those moments quite a lot. But, a bigger part of my sadness comes from this: for the first time since I was five years old, I will not be in school. It hit me, as I said goodbye to these students, that a 35-year run was coming to an end. I am actually leaving the only job I ever really loved: being a student. Though I moved my desk from one side of the room to the other when I first became an adjunct lecturer, I never stopped being a student, and I never stopped learning.
On my first draft of this blog post, I wrote a list of things I’ve learned over 35 years of being a student and 12 years of being an adjunct. As you can imagine, the length of the blog quickly got out of hand (even for me). So, I am using this post simply to introduce what I hope to be a series of posts about teaching as a profession, the importance and means of learning, program evaluation, and curriculum structure. I hope it bears some good advice for students, some good advice for teachers old and new, and some good advice for the directors and deans who run degree or certificate programs in law-related fields (and beyond).
For now, I will say only this. I had many successes as a student. I’ve had some successes as a lawyer. But, all that pales in comparison to the emails, notes or telephone calls I’ve received over the years from former students, thanking me for what they’d learned in my class. There is no greater compliment. There is no greater affirmation of my work. There is no greater joy than knowing you helped someone in a significant way. I am so grateful to have had the chance to make that kind of difference.