There’s quite a bit that’s different about teaching college compared to teaching middle school or high school, and one thing that strikes me as one of the biggest differences is the closure of the term. The close of the year for a secondary teacher, especially a young one (someone as inexperienced as I was), can be a very emotional moment. I remember the end of my 16 weeks student teaching in a Des Moines high school; I cried most of the drive home because this experience was so emotionally, physically, and mentally overwhelming, and also because I was going to miss these students, most of whom I would never see again. I taught eighth grade for two years in rural Iowa, and, both years, the mourning process of the end of the year was extreme. These students were moving on, growing up, leaving me. I had loved these students. My first year, they were leaving middle school for high school, and I wouldn’t have the joy of seeing them as often. My second year, I was leaving â€” not only leaving the school, but leaving the state to go to grad school.
The mourning process at the end of the term in college is so much different. It falls flat in comparison. I loved my classes: they were fun, the students worked hard, they cared and had investment in the course and in their writing, they are bright and young and going to do things in the world. But there just isn’t the same traumatic terminus to a college a term. Emotions fall flat, I need a nap, students are going off to study for their other exams, they are exhausted after finishing their final reports, and some of them are absolutely tired of their classmates after working with them on their group projects.
I received some good verbal feedback from some students, thanking me for the care and time I put into the class, thanking me for being different from so many of their other bacc core teachers who don’t seem to care about teaching and the students, but just lecture the same information term in and term out. This felt good.
But there’s one conversation that will probably stick with me the longest. One student, who I knew early in the term was not a fan of business and professionalism, came up to me after class and asked if he could walk with me and give me some verbal feedback about the course. I was a little stunned; most of my students wanted to get out of there, desiring to be done after so much work in ten weeks.
I told him sure, I’m walking to the Memorial Union to get some coffee before going to my office. I loaded on my two bags (needed to carry my students’ reports), picked up my cane, and started hobbling along, this student beside me. “To be honest,” he said (as accurately as I can reconstruct it), “I would have S/U’d this course if I could have, but it’s required for graduation. I hate business writing. I hope to never have to do this type of writing, but you made the course fun and interesting.”
“Well, thank you,” I replied. We continued talking, and he continued to describe some of his problems with business writing: how it doesn’t feel social enough, how it seems cold and dead and formulaic (he didn’t quite use these words). “To be honest,” I told him, “this is a course that I refused to take as an undergraduate. I shared your views: business writing seemed stale and not fun. But since then, I’ve come to see how a lot of it is about building relationships with other people, and it was when I started to see business writing as a social endeavor that I began to enjoy this type of writing and to become interested in it.”
He nodded, and we continued walking. “Have you seen SLC Punk?” I asked.
He smiled, said yeah, and I continued, “Sometimes I think about that movie when I think about this class.”
“Oh? Like how… what’s his name… Stevo! How Stevo sells out at the end?”
“Yeah, yeah, that, and when his father is talking to him earlier in the movie, and he says, ‘I didn’t sell out, son; I bought in.'”
“My worst fear is that someday I’ll be working in a large company as a CEO or something and that it won’t be fun and I won’t be able to have real relationships with those I work with.”
“And you’ll be writing memos to your employees?”
“Yeah.” He smirks.
“Well, I think an important thing is to determine where your ethics lie, what negotiations you’re willing to make in order to succeed and do what you want and need in life, and then try to stick to those decisions. And of course, revise them as you learn new things.”
We parted. He had to get to work on engineering homework, I needed coffee. What made this conversation even more poignant is that when I walked into my next classroom, someone had left a quotation up on the chalkboard that unfortunately I can’t remember verbatim, but has something to do with becoming an adult, and how we all become something as an adult that would shock or disturb us when we were children.