I am a person who cares a lot about teaching. Now, I didn’t think, when I decided to go on to grad school after undergrad, that I did. If I’d thought what I wanted to do was to be a teacher, I honestly would have gotten my degree in English Ed, because why would any person in the whole world spend seven years getting an M.A. and a Ph.D. if what they want to do is to teach? But one of the things that I learned in graduate school is that I do care a great deal about teaching, and in fact teaching is in many ways the thing that I find the most value in, even if it involves some activities that I don’t love (grading, administrativia).
But with all of that said, it’s a rare day that I think to myself, “self, you are an AMAZING teacher.” This is not false modesty. I think I’m very good at teaching. But most of the time, when I read a great student paper, or when I have a great class discussion, my first thought is not “I’m such an amazing teacher!” My first thought is usually “this student is so amazing!” or “what a great class! I’m so lucky to have these students!”
In other words, most of the time, even though I do think that I’m good at teaching, the credit for awesomeness goes to my students and the fact that they are AMAZING.
But when I read that short paper from a student who has been attending my university since 1995, sometimes part-time, sometimes full-time, and who has two kids and who works full time, and who is graduating in May and so, really, the theory course is all about a hoop that she’s jumping through? A short paper for which she had (some) choice in choosing the topic and a) she chose to focus on Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play” and b) she perfectly explained decentering through cartoons (which her sons were watching)? Yes, she’s awesome, but also: I am an AMAZING fucking teacher. Like, really. Because that sort of a paper does not emerge from a not-terribly-engaged student without an AMAZING fucking teacher.
I mean, seriously. DERRIDA! And not misreading Derrida, but also a really nuanced understanding of Derrida, but one which connects to something that’s so typically something that wouldn’t be theorized. A short paper in which she actually connected deconstruction to her day-to-day life.
I feel like bragging about teaching is akin to talking about how great the food that you cooked tastes – that it’s tacky and low-class and gauche. But sometimes, seriously, the food that you cook tastes just that good that you have to congratulate yourself for its yumminess, even in front of guests. And sometimes, as a teacher, you have done such a good job that even though students are great and they did the work and everything, you need to just stand up and say that you did phenomenal work in getting them there.
I’m still sort of glowing, even 36 hours after reading that paper.