Thursday, March 16, 2006

California Examines Some Warts

I have to concur with most of what the Placid Philosopher has to say. When I read RYS, I’m troubled particularly by the “I hate my job” posts. We all hate our jobs occasionally – I’m a community college political science professor and I find myself sometimes thinking about a career change.

But mostly, I really love my job. I love my discipline and love imparting disciplinary knowledge. The payoff from teaching is especially rewarding when I “turn on” a student to the study of politics or influence an “undecided” or some other major to change to a political science concentration. It makes my day when I get a thank you letter from a former student saying that my class was a life changing experience for them.

I agree, the pay is pretty good (especially for someone who at one point worked a minimum-wage job as an undergraduate), and I too am moving up the social-mobility ladder, with a new house and all. Oh sure, free-riding colleagues in the department and college-wide are a real drag, as is most of the radical left-wing campus politics. Nor do I love the half-brained back-wall-warmers in my classes, many of whom attend school to collect a financial aid check.

But it’s all in a day’s work I guess. Despite the natural tendencies toward burnout, I usually remain able to reach out to those most in need academically with compassion. Those first few hectic weeks of the semester, when I hear all the standard excuses for the first-day no-shows, or for the excessive tardiness, or the line on the no-financial-aid-to-buy-my-books, and so forth, gradually and ineluctably give way to the remainder of a generally pleasurable semester, in which I get to know my students names, and they in turn repeatedly remind my what it was like to put myself through school, when I too struggled at times to overcome life’s hurdles.

For those of us who burn out occasionally, and especially for those job-hating, gravy-train riders who should find another line of work, I recall the reminder from James M. Banner, Jr., and Harold C. Cannon, in their book,
The Elements of Teaching (1997): “The first rule of ethical teaching is to do no harm to students.” Certainly words to live by in our profession, warts and all.