When you've been doing the same job for nearly 20 years, it's easy to get burnt out. I teach at a community college, and that means I interact, on a fairly personal level, with 500 people every year. Now, I don't mean I interact with the same 500 people all year; every few months a semester ends and we start over with a new batch of students. Even if I didn't want to get to know them all, it happens regardless. And even for an extrovert like me, it can be draining. Add in bureaucracy, conflict, stress, deadlines, paperwork, and all the other stuff that goes along with any job, and you can see how burnout might occur.
Every year, many of my colleagues take the summer off. It means doing without the money they would make by teaching summer school, but they do it to recharge and avoid burning out. I, on the other hand, always teach summer school, largely because I need the money, but also because summer school is so much better than the regular semester. It's rejeuvenating-- it staves off the burnout by reminding me how teaching can be when it's at its best.
Tonight my students all wanted to go out to celebrate the end of the summer session, and they invited me along. They kept telling me how much they enjoyed the class. (And they weren't just sucking up for grades-- I already sent in their grades before I came out to the restaurant and they knew it!) I tried to explain that they get all the credit for how great the class went, but they just wouldn't believe it.
They (I am not making this up) recited back to me things that they learned in class, and how those things helped them understand other concepts and how it's all helping them in their lives. Part of my brain kept saying, "SEE!? THIS is why I TEACH!" OMG OMG OMG!! IT WORKS!! But I can't take credit for it-- they're the ones who were dedicated and engaged, and thought of real-life examples to discuss in class, and did the homework, and paid attention and did all the things that make a class good.
In the usual school year, getting students to participate in class is painfully difficult. Imagine a choir director trying to coax hostile, bored kids to sing-- maybe kids who are only in the choir because otherwise they won't be able to get health insurance-- and finally resorting to just singing the piece herself. That's what it's like. And you know what? I can do that. I do not suck at that. The end result is not as bad as one might expect. Sometimes I even lure in a few student voices to flesh things out and then it gets more interesting.
But in the summer classes, teaching is more like working with a dedicated, talented chorus, calling on students to bring out their voices and create a whole piece of music that is richer and more complex than it would otherwise have been. And THAT my friends, is something I excel at. When I'm workin' with dedication and talent, boy can I coax a great performance out of them. But I do need that effort on their part. I need them to really be there, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. If they'll give me that little bit of themselves, we can -- we can ring the bell. You know what I mean? I don't think students realize how much power they have to influence the atmosphere in a classroom, and the learning that happens in there.
So yeah, we had an awesome fabulous time and I am SO GLAD I decided to teach this summer (I almost didn't, can you imagine?)
*And for those of you who have been following The Year of No Drinking, I did not drink tonight (probably a wise choice even if it weren't The Year of No Drinking; they were doing shots when I left...), haven't had a drink in 6 months, am halfway through and have lost 5 pounds, which is an added benefit I didn't anticipate. Also I feel pretty healthy these days. So yeah, pretty kick-ass summer so far.