Of Love and School Supplies

Sometimes I think about quitting academia.  I think about just throwing in the towel on post-docs, temporary visiting assistant professorships, adjunct appointments (shiver!), fighting for a permanent position only then to have to fight to keep it, trying for tenure, possibly failing, publishing, getting rejected, 4/4 teaching loads, summer “vacation” which is really working at breakneck speed to get my own research done……..  Sometimes I think about how great it would be to get a corporate office cubicle job.  You know the kind?  Sure you do.  Get to work at 8 and leave at 5, unless you have flex time and then you can show up and work any 9 hours of the day as long as you’re there during the peak hours of 10-4.  The jobs where you have at least 2 weeks of vacation that are really vacation!  You go home and don’t have more reading, more grading, just one more page to write.  You’re on vacation and you don’t have to think about the book you aren’t reading, or worse, the one you aren’t WRITING.  It seems so lovely.  I watch shows like The Office and think all offices are fun and all bosses are funny.  I’ve even worked in a wonderful, uplifting office environment with great friends, and a pretty cool set of bosses to boot, and loved every second of their company.  So, sometimes I think about quitting and going to work there.

These very realistic thoughts usually begin in the middle of the summer, when research has lost its thrill and every new source I find is more boring and useless than the last.  Ugh…never ending drudgery.  That feeling ebbs and flows until the first day of classes.  I love the first day of school—no I mean I really LOVE it.  I always have.  Call me crazy (I’ll wait until you’re done)…but I’ve always loved getting a new schedule, getting new school supplies (I love how they smell!), getting new school clothes, meeting new people, and learning new things.  This love affair with the first day of school hasn’t changed since I was 5 and entering kindergarten.  I also love every day of school throughout the year.  Since becoming a teacher I have loved new things about the first day and continuing semester—new students, new syllabi, new ways and new things to teach, seeing students’ faces as they begin to understand or get as excited about a topic as I do.  It is then that I know that God made me to do this.

This week was the first week of classes at AUC.  I have 60 students total, 30 each in two sections of a course called Scientific Thinking.  As should happen at the university level but is explicitly focused on in this course, I get to teach them HOW to think about things and not WHAT to think.  I get to see them grasp totally new concepts, like thinking critically, that they will use for the rest of their lives.  I hope I will impact their ways of thinking about science, society, and the world in general.  I hope to be one of those professors that students don’t forget.  Maybe I will be and maybe I won’t.  Maybe in my class they’ll earn their first A.  Maybe they will get their first and only C (I still remember the man who gave me my first and only C…).  It’s a new semester with new possibilities and everything to gain.  Sure there are rough days where no one talks; there are days where students stare blankly at me as if I were an alien or, worse, as if I were not up there at all (think: when I teach relativity theory.  Yikes).  But those days are few, hopefully.  Teaching is what makes all the other stuff worth it.  I love to research much more when I know I have a classroom to go into to spread the information I’ve learned to fresh and open minds.  Fighting for temporary/adjunct/visiting positions is all forgotten when I step in front of 30 new faces, most of them eager to learn.  I’m sure that the pain of research, long nights and days of writing and publishing to get tenure will be nothing compared to the fun and joy of being in the classroom for the rest of my career.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love going to conferences, being a part of the academic community, presenting and listening to papers and meeting colleagues to discuss a number of subjects, but, to me, nothing beats the classroom.

Quitting is not an option for me.  Sure, the grass seems greener, but then I remember my dad working 12-14 hour days as an accountant.  I can remember his face when he would tell me: “stay in school as long as you can, Kate” and “you can be whatever you want to be” and then I know I can’t quit.  I will never make a ton of money—who cares?  I will always be happy though.  I can’t think of another job where I’d get to travel to research and present results in archives in London, Paris, Egypt, Manchester, Cambridge, and Chicago, and have a great time besides.  I plan on staying in school forever—thankfully not as a student!!—but I’ll be in the classroom for as long as I can.  There may be a hiatus or two down the road when there are no positions open or if the job market stays as crazy as it is right now, but I’ll always be working to get back.

I love the first day of school.  I was totally made for this!

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4 Responses to Of Love and School Supplies

  1. Julie says:

    SO TRUE!! I love this post! Even though I know that the semester will inevitably degenerate to a point where I simultaneously feel like it’ll never and that the end with its deadlines is coming way too fast, I hope I’ll never lose the feeling you describe above.

  2. Hi Kate – found your blog through Michael Barton’s list. I got my start teaching in Cairo too, after finishing college, at a Jesuit high school near Midan Ramses. So your post reminded me of the giddy disorientation of Cairo in the fall, the dust, the new students, the smell of the cars and the souks, the calls to prayer. I also remember the years and years of anxiety about jobs, adjunct work, etc. Anyway, just saying hi and good luck. I hope this week goes well.

    • Kate Sheppard says:

      Hi Michael–Thanks for your comment! The idea that there is a light (and a permanent position) at the end of the tunnel is definitely encouraging. And in the meantime I am having a lot of fun so far. From your description, it sounds like Cairo hasn’t changed much since you were here. Not sure it’s fundamentally changed in a VERY long time.

      Hope your week goes well.


  3. Yes, there is a light. I remember how anxious all of us were in grad school (UWisconsin-Madison) and now, when I look at my grad cohort, most of them have jobs in the field. I wrote a post about my time in Egypt:

    happy teaching!

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