Monday, December 7, 2009

The real world

I've been teaching for ten years. Before that, I spent five years getting a doctoral degree. Before that, I spent three years getting a master's degree. Before that, I worked for a few years. Before that, I spent four years getting a bachelor's degree. And before that, high school, elementary school, and before that, I can barely remember.

All my life, with only minor interruptions, in the warm arms of the educational system. I knew early on that it was where I belonged. It's where I excelled, and it's where what energized and excited me was to be found.

But it probably doesn't make me the best qualified person to prepare students for life outside of that insular world. Some of my students leave classes and grades behind forever when they move on from where I stay. The closest I get to a culture shock is when I venture outside of my academic unit and teach in other departments. Relatively speaking, though, that's a major shift. When you live inside, the slightest change of scenery can be a revelation.

Tomorrow I'm giving the first final exam I've give in probably five or six years. I'm out of the habit, having long since abandoned the practice of asking students to justify their learning on the final day and taken up projects that extend over several weeks. Sometimes I ask students to do presentations on final exam day, other times we just have a meal together.

Why am I giving a final exam? Why am I going to be sitting in a room for two hours while a roomful of students scribble essays in blue books -- essays that I will have to read before next Monday? I'd rather not. But things are different over in the next building. The students are different. I'm different. Not as different as night and day, or school and work. Enough, though, to make a few things clear about the situation in which I spend most of my time.

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