If I were easily persuaded by vitriolic public discourse, I'd probably decide no. It's all so dispiriting--the public perception that humanities degrees are useless, or that professors are out-of-touch, lazy slobs who work ten hours per week; the erosion of tenure protections (along with public misconceptions about what tenure is and is for); attacks on academic freedom; the exploitation of part-time adjunct faculty; non-replacement of full-time faculty members who retire or leave; calls for "accountability" and "assessment" that strip-mine our curricula and straitjacket our teaching; the unwelcome meddling of for-profit entities; reduced access to higher education by those lacking economic privilege, not to mention reduced access to the professoreate as a career path ... the list is so endless that I'm sure I'm leaving out something crucial.
So many low points this year. Yet still so many highs. (Insert cliched expression about roller-coasters here.)
This particular roller-coaster was the sadistic type--one that saves its final nauseating loop-de-loop for the final seconds. Fall semester was crazy, spring semester crazier. As for the final weeks of spring semester--I don't even know what word there is for that, and an English professor deprived of lexicon is a rare thing indeed. (Note under Archives, the lack of entry for May 2015. There are reasons for this gap.)
The world keeps spinning. As does my head.
all-day workshops on core competencies and accreditation ... how to operationalize measurements of creativity without standardizing them ... students aren't learning enough and it isn't their fault for not showing up or doing the homework, it's our fault ... spreadsheets, budgets ... behind-the-scenes wrangling ... revision of major degree requirements ... new joint degree plans, negotiations ... new general education plan, how to assess it ... scheduling challenges ... enrollment projections ... exhaustion ... honor society induction ceremony, with pizza (there's always pizza) ... student learning outcomes, or are they objectives, and what's the difference ... assessing senior portfolios ... capstone symposium ... leave capstone symposium early when son's school calls to say he's broken his foot in P.E. ... senior seminar papers ... final class day, potlucks, senior tears ... grading ... grade complaints ... student evaluations ... spousal kidney stones while teenager recovers from pneumonia ... party for graduating seniors ... photos ...
A week before graduation, two of our English majors get married in the backyard of a house shared by four of our alumni. Most of the wedding party and guests are students, alumni and faculty in our small program. Four weeks earlier, many of the same people had gathered for a colleague's memorial service.
Five days later, many of the same people gather in our town's arena for our graduation ceremony. When students walk across stage, I am the one to read many of their names. (Workshop presenter has suggested we follow up with these "data points" in the future, as they may--or may not--provide us with "indirect evidence of institutional effectiveness," depending on whether they go on to demonstrate "success." Today, the data points are wearing caps and gowns and honor cords and an array of interesting shoes.)
speeches ... meeting students' families ... photos ... farewells ... my husband, who teaches in a different field at a different institution, wins an Excellence in Teaching Award ... celebrations ... family visit ... birthday celebration for colleague's baby ...
A graduating senior presents several of us with customized coffee mugs featuring end-of-semester group photos from classes we taught.
grant requests and travel forms, committee meetings and task forces, draft conference paper and update CV ... asthma attack and bout with sinusitis ... web site updates ... draft 2016 schedule ... fall adjunct staffing ... ad placement ... HR rules constantly changing ... prominent administrator at competitor institution says faculty are not being "fully utilized," though most--like me--are clocking sixty hours per week or more ...
Our graduating senior class presents the entire faculty with a yearbook they have created themselves on Shutterfly, compiled of scenes from this crazy, wild roller-coaster ride of an academic year. They've been photographing themselves, and us, all along--documenting their last year together in this small program at a little-known institution. On the last few pages they each write a handwritten message to our faculty as a whole.
They say things like, "You all will never know just how big a role you played in my life and success. Thank you for all of the opportunities and support you've given me in my time here." "You will never truly know the full extent of your positive impact on my life, both personally and academically." "I am forever thankful and blessed to have been taught by you all. I wish you could all follow me to my next location!" "Thank you for teaching me to be a better thinker and better person. You all made a huge difference in my life."
Self-reporting is suspect in the data world, but I'm told we can indeed use this yearbook as "indirect evidence" of "student success"--provided it's "triangulated" with other "meaningful data," including objective corollaries that "prove" we actually have taught our students to become "better thinkers."
Better people? Positive impacts on personal lives? Who tracks that?
Three weeks after our university's graduation ceremony, my teenage son "graduates" from middle school. For this sort-of-ceremony, there are no caps or gowns or honor cords, they all wear practical shoes, and no band plays "Pomp and Circumstance"--it's just a short assembly in the school cafeteria. Still, each kid is called by name and walks across the stage to a round of applause.
I don't applaud for my son alone. I've known many of these kids since they were small--either I tutored them in reading as a parent volunteer during kindergarten, first and second grades, or my husband coached them in basketball and/or soccer, or all of the above. Many of them, I've watched sprout from near toddlers to teenagers.
It's only going to be four more years until many of them show up in a college freshman composition course like the one I teach. I imagine they will be much like my own college freshmen at first--nervous, skittish, a bit uncertain as they begin to negotiate the huge gap between high school and college.
Four years after that, most of them will--I hope--walk confidently across the stage as young adults ready to make their way in our crazy and confusing world. Like our graduating seniors did three weeks ago. I remember when most of them were freshmen too.
The middle-school principal speaks to the audience of young teens and proud parents. He tells us, "We're pressed a lot from all sides right now--pressed to make our students high-school ready, so they can be made college-ready and career-ready. I have every confidence you will all be college and career-ready. What matters to me even more is that you become better people. I know many people who make less money than I do and have less influence, yet many of those people are role models for me. I also know many people who make more than I do and have more influence, yet many of those people are not role models for me. Yes, I want you all to be successful, however you define success. But even more, I want you to be compassionate, decent human beings, even if nobody is putting the pressure on us to produce that."
more celebrations ... more goodbyes ... students move away, some very far away, including the newlyweds ... some who left long ago come back to visit ... son registers for high school ... elementary school puts on elaborate end-of-year show ... my children bring home yearbooks signed by their friends ... prepare fall syllabi ... consult enrollment data ... more bad press ... teachers are lazy ... humanities fields are a waste of time ... we need to prove we're doing our jobs ... Prove it!
I re-read the handwritten signatures in the yearbook produced voluntarily by our graduating seniors, now alumni (also known as "data points").
"Words can't express my gratitude for all you've done to change my life for the better."
Not everything that matters can be expressed by words. Or even data.
I'm in for another year. Another year of one day at a time. Another year, I hope, of ups. A year, I hope, with fewer--or at least less extreme--downs.