My colleague said that she's drawn to academia because she likes teaching, and she likes teaching because she enjoys other people's company and needs a lot of social interaction. And I thought, That's it exactly. I like people, but I like them in small numbers, and I like relating to them as equals (as opposed to being their authority figure), and I like sociality in limited doses; I find it exhausting to be surrounded by people all the time. This was true even when I was a child and found it necessary to retreat, periodically, from the throngs of relatives at family Christmases and Thanksgivings, shutting myself up in an unused room with a book for an hour or two to recharge. I'm a classic introvert, in other words. What Jonathan Rauch said about introverts in The Atlantic last March? That's me. And even when the semester's going well and I'm enjoying the classroom interaction, as is the case this term, I still feel drained rather than energized. Then I go home and worry ceaselessly about the next day's class, and the papers to be graded, and what I've forgotten to do. And I sleep restlessly and have anxiety dreams. And I have no energy left over for much of anything besides plopping down on the couch and watching TV or surfing the web. I try to make myself write, but it fizzles out before I can open up my notebook or launch the word processor.
This might very well be the source of my discontentment with teaching. It does make me feel a bit better to think of said discontentment as a matter of temperament rather than as a personal failing. I wonder: aren't lots of professors drawn to academia because they're introverted, reclusive types who like to hole up alone in their library carrels? How do they deal with teaching if that's the case?*
But I'm also thinking that, given all of the above, a nonacademic day job probably wouldn't dissipate my drive to write and do research all that much more than teaching already does. Especially a nice quiet non-interacting-with-the-public day job. There's still the question of how on earth anyone pulls off independent scholarship without ties to a university, but this seems like an important realization, somehow.
*Cynical answer: they're probably the ones who lecture rather than discuss, schedule office hours at 8 a.m. to avoid having to interact with students, and focus intently on their research. Which is what one is supposed to do for tenure anyway. But I think back to two science professors I had as an undergraduate. Professor Y was a research scientist whose face visibly fell when he found out we were all taking his molecular biology class to fulfill distribution requirements and who seemed to wish he were elsewhere most of the time. Professor Z clearly adored introducing undergraduates to his subject, learned the names of all 60-odd students in the section, had us volunteer to turn the crank on the Van der Graff generator to make his hair stand on end, got me fascinated with quantum physics, and always looked happy and energetic when he came into the lecture hall. If I don't have the personality to become Professor Z, I don't want to turn into Professor Y.
Update: Cindy at making contact is also blogging about teaching-related exhaustion and guilt. At least I'm not the only one who collapses in front of the TV at the end of the day...
- One student who writes in bright pink ink.
- At least three students who wear baseball caps all the time, making it somewhat difficult to tell them apart during the first few weeks of the semester, especially if they're all wearing Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirts.
- A vast majority in the big pre-professional majors (pre-law, pre-med, pre-business) and then two or three in a less-represented major like music performance or engineering.
- Several clusters of students who grew up in the same towns less than fifty miles from Collegeville.
- One out-of-state student who looks a little forlorn when we do introductions on the first day.
- One student who grew up in Collegeville and, though I don't ask, may well be the child of faculty members.
- Several who never talk.
- Several who always talk.
- Several who like anything that resembles creative writing, and several who confide that they're terrified of creative writing.
- One or two who remind me of all the things I do, in fact, like about teaching, and are bright and alert and supportive of their classmates, and show up during office hours to talk about books they like, and startle me with the quality of their prose and the sharpness of their reflections.
I have a stack of papers to grade that's only going to grow higher tomorrow, but right now I just want to remind myself that it's not all gloom and doom. I still don't think this is what I want to be doing permanently, and I'm already feeling that creeping sense of discontentment and tiredness that I've come to associate with teaching semesters, but for the moment, I'm keeping the last item on the list in mind as a way of warding off apathy and inertia.