Life as an Academic and a Mentor

This morning there was a really good post by Apini over at PhD Octopus in honor of the end of term at Oxford. Most of the post is about the quick ending of term there, but a lot of it struck a pretty deep chord with me. I’ve always lived by the academic calendar – having just finished my undergrad, I guess that’s not unique – but I’ve always expected to. I keep track of time based on when school starts and stops. My photo albums are arranged by academic year instead of calendar year. Having been somewhere between teacher-track and professor-track in my career aspirations, I’ve pretty much sold myself on living a teaching sort of life. But living by a calendar starting in the fall isn’t that intriguing, this bit of the blog was what hit me:

I remember that there are newspaper deadlines, and orchestra rehearsals, and plays, and JCR committee elections, and important varsity matches, and internship interviews, and figuring out what you want to do with your life.  I remember walking through the dining hall in senior week and thinking how sad it was that it would never be ‘my’ dining hall again.  I remember a party on the roof of our house.  I remember the panicked feeling of being nostalgic at the same time that the thing you’re being nostalgic for is happening.

And I remember that another reason I became an academic is because I like to operate on that calendar too.  I like to see successive generations do all of those things, and make decisions about their lives, and make silly mistakes along the way, and grow up from scared first years to confident (and scared) finalists.

This is exactly what I love about teaching. I love history and human rights and development, enough to be a professional historian or researcher or development worker. The only reason I would rather teach is for that interaction with students. I love interacting with pupils and watching them grow, both academically and socially. This year I had the privilege of being with 190 students during my four month stint back at high school.

People don’t always talk about this, but teaching is pretty isolating, at least professionally. There are other teachers in your department and you have the daily prep hour to maybe see the colleagues in your hall. There’s the occasional professional development seminar you can attend. But most of the time you’re the only one of your kind. When I was teaching, I started my day with a prep hour either alone or with a couple of other teachers in vicinity, I (sometimes) spent lunch with the same gang, and I usually spent about an hour, maybe more, alone in my room working after the day ended. The rest of the time, I was alone in the company of 35-40 high schoolers. When you spend hours with your students, you’ve got to enjoy it. I have to say, I truly loved seeing all of my students every day throughout the year, and that last paragraph from Apini reminded me why.

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