I returned to teaching today–after a hiatus of three semesters. The first semester’s release from teaching was due to a union-negotiated parental leave; I was exempt from teaching two classes that semester and because I was scheduled to be assigned that workload in any case, I was effectively exempt from teaching altogether. (I was not exempt from administrative duties such as departmental committee work, or student advising, or from my work at the Wolfe Institute for the Humanities.) The next two semester’s release was due to my academic sabbatical–originally due to be taken in 2009, but delayed for personal reasons.
A long absence from teaching is felt by some academics to be sheer bliss; I didn’t find it so. While I did not miss the grading, the exhausting bureaucratic interactions with administration and students–pertaining to delayed assignments, grade disputes, plagiarism, and sundry other misadventures, I did miss the constant mental ferment triggered by preparations for class and the ensuing classroom discussions; on more than occasion today, I felt an old familiar, and pleasurable, feeling recur: a moment of clarity that occurs in one’s own thinking as you strive to explain and explicate and edify. As the day went on, and as I conducted classes at 11AM, 12:50 and 3:40 PM, I felt another familiar feeling, one not so pleasurable: exhaustion. Three seventy-five minute meetings–each, if done right, conducted as high-energy pieces of performance–can be wearing; fourteen more weeks of these, twice a week, will produce its own particular brand of lassitude by the end of the semester.
I hope my return to teaching, rather than torpedoing the various writing projects I have yet to complete, will actually facilitate their journey past the finish line. (I am optimistic too, that it will kickstart my blogging here, which has become ever more tedious over the last year and a half.) All too often during my sabbatical I had missed the conversations with my students and my colleagues at Brooklyn College that somehow, in some mysterious way, had set my mind astir, triggering connections and pathways to thoughts yet unthought, leading on to gratefully accepted moments of inspiration during both reading and writing.
My first class meetings today went off rather smoothly–as indeed, most first days of teaching often do. The students–for the most part–look suitably enthusiastic (I am glad to report there are many students in my classes who seem like they will engage the readings and participate in the subsequent class discussions); discussing the syllabus often deludes the professor into thinking he or she can run the semester smoothly (yes, ‘it’s on the syllabus’ but that will not preclude moments of conflict later in the semester as students seek exemptions from its provisions and regulations). There is a sense of intellectual excitement in the air; unread books and essays promise to take us into regions of the mind as yet unexplored. Soon enough, there will be disillusionment as fidelity to reading assignments break down, classroom discussions stall, and papers are handed in for painful grading sessions. But for now, there is hope.