Monday, October 21, 2013
Great Lakes Greta Surfaces on an October Sunday Night
Yes, this is less rant than whine. If you're looking for something upbeat and pithy, move along, move along.
It's just that I can't stand most of my students this semester, and I can't stand them not because of who they are--they are as they always are, every semester--but because of circumstances in my own life. The past six months have brought me several heartbreaking personal losses, more than I've shared even with my closest friends. I am sad, and I have real reason to be sad. I am mourning. I am grieving. Being a woman of experience, I know--on a cognitive, rational level--that the sadness will diminish and I will move on with my life, but my wounds are recent and I am hurting.
(Please don't suggest professional help. I'm already there.)
And I have to teach. Teaching requires me not to be mourning and grieving and sad. Each day, I put on a shiny, happy, professional face and head into my classes full of entitled, lazy students who have the fortitude of oatmeal and the common sense of toddlers. (At this point, I would like to apologize to toddlers everywhere.) They have zero idea of what it takes to succeed in college. Their commitment to their education rivals Elizabeth Taylor's commitment to death-do-us-part. But this is nothing new. What's new is that I am perilously close to breaking character at some point, of telling them that I'm tired of their entitled, lazy asses and their complete and total lameness--and that would be very bad, indeed.
I know that I have students with Really Big Problems and for these students I have genuine sympathy. I teach at a community college in an impoverished area. It's not these students with whom I take issue, though. I am sick to death of the students who email me and hijack me in person to lament the shit they've brought on themselves and the drama they seem to live to create. I'm tired, too, of the students who lament the sniffles they've contracted--and tired of the ones so sick they should be home rather than infecting the rest of us. I'm tired of hearing every little detail of their Jerry Springer lives--and I know how unkind that sounds--and I'm tired of them assuming that it's my job to 1) make exceptions for them, and b) serve as some sort of repository for their misery.
This is what enrages me. It's bothered me in the past, but it hasn't outright pissed me off before.
Then there's the guilt. This semester, I can stand myself as little as I can stand my students. I am disorganized and late in returning work to them. I've flaked out several times and totally forgotten things that needed to be done. I've gotten better as the semester has progressed and my head has begun to clear, but I feel terrible about my performance this semester. Even entitled, lazy students deserve the best I can give them--and they're not getting it. Guilt. That feeds my anger. That, ultimately, feeds my sadness.
And on top of all of this, I occasionally default into lamenting the straight-up, old-fashioned misery of the job: the politics; the contemporary notion that CC proffies should be so many things more than proffies (retention specialists, social workers, diagnosticians); the disconnect from my colleagues who have always been polite but never outright welcoming; the endless tea partying grading; the Sisyphean task of teaching critical thinking and writing skills to resistant and often hostile students; the realization that I'll be doing this for at least the next twenty years, if I want to retire in something that approximates comfort and not poverty.
It is the combination of aerobic exercise, coffee, and chocolate that keeps me from committing verbal homicide this semester, and I don't know what to do about it.
Have you ever had to deal with a dark night of the soul during an academic term? How did/do you persevere? I know that time will help...but for the immediate future, I am at a loss as to what to do. And I've never been more grateful for tenure in my life.
And that makes me sad, too.