A Campus Christmas Carol
This fall my wife and I both seemed to be circling around midcareer crises. We’ve each been teaching full time for about a dozen years in our respective positions. We’ve made minor changes: I have added a part-time administrative position to my teaching and writing, and she has shifted from one school to another in the same district.
But those changes don’t feel like much in comparison with our early years, when it seemed like we were always on the move: I followed her to her graduate school in one city, and then she followed me to my graduate school in another city, and then we moved to the East Coast for my tenure-track job. And here we have been ever since.
“I need a new job, a new city, and a new hair color,” I heard my wife say to a friend at a party last month. A few days later I came home and found her and one of my older daughters dyeing each other’s hair.
“Did it help?” I asked her the next morning.
I know how she feels. Last week I was deep into a stack of end-of-semester papers, grinding away. I looked up in the middle of one paper and thought: I’ve corrected these same mistakes on this student’s papers three times already. What am I doing wrong here? Does all of this time I am spending really make an iota of difference?
I suspect we all ask ourselves such questions at some point. They arise in spite of the gratitude my wife and I feel for the very fact that we have jobs. And while those questions may stem from moments of frustration, sometimes a better impulse animates them: Perhaps I could better serve students, or the profession, or the world in some other capacity. Most of the time, I feel a good fit between myself and my work. But how will I know for sure if I don’t look around every once in a while?
A long night of grading and reflection on this question left me needing to clear my head. I woke up the next morning and decided to make my two-mile commute to the campus on foot. After a vigorous 30-minute walk, I got to my office with a resolution in mind and opened up The Chronicle to the jobs section. I started paging through it, looking for openings at teaching centers or for administrative posts in some of the cities we have left behind and still miss. I knew my wife wouldn’t take much convincing.