The last of five essays about my 32nd year of teaching.
No thirty-third year of teaching awaits me next fall. More accurately, it won’t happen until 2015-16 because my school awarded me a sabbatical to study schools that don’t give grades. August won’t find me in a classroom for the first time in fifty years.
That news probably should have opened these five essays. I meant to say so—I tagged each essay with “Sabbaticals”—but I never revealed I’m off next year.
1. I hope next year will relieve some of the worries I’ve expressed here—and offer the chance to fix an airplane then no longer in flight—but maybe I wanted to keep exhaustion separate from relief. I’ll write about solutions later but don’t have them now. I have only questions and the spent feeling of struggling to reach a landing strip.
2. A teacher soldiering on, I thought, might have more credibility than one who has a sabbatical ahead. How can you moan when the solution to your lament is only months away? How can you explain a trapped feeling if the cage door stands ajar?
3. You may think me an ingrate. I wouldn’t have you believe I’m insensitive to the gift my school has given me. Some colleagues would never consider asking for a break. Others missed the opportunity when the school approved my proposal. Maybe I only wanted to justify the school’s choice, to demonstrate how needy I am.
4. I care about my students, and regret leaving. When a junior says, “I’d hoped to be in your class,” it breaks my heart. I can’t be happy to announce my liberation.
5. And maybe I’m ashamed, disappointed I’m so tired, tired of being so self-pitying, of looking at my devotion to this career and still asking, “How long can I go on?” Is something wrong with me that I need a break? Is something wrong with me I’m giving up?
Really, I’m not sure. Sometimes I worry—absurdly, I know—a year won’t be enough. My sabbatical, after all, isn’t truly a rest, just industry in a different direction. My proposal would never have been approved if I’d written, “Oh please let me take a personal year!” or if I’d asked, “Oh, please give me anything to interrupt the grind of grading!”
I fought the temptation to word my request exactly so.
What I came up with, however, was better. My area of study for the sabbatical seems oddly perfect for my state of mind. In focusing on intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivation, it amounts to, “What are we doing here, anyway?” In answering for students, perhaps I’ll approach an answer myself.
Given the accumulation of years, the overlapping calendars of academic quarters, the revisited and revised assignments, the insinuating syntax of quoted passages, the rolling repetition of daily schedules and teaching blocks, the conversations strangely familiar and new, the meetings about meetings past, I need to ask, “Why?”
Who knows what the 16 months of my sabbatical will be like? Right now, I’m thinking about being ready for the week, the day, the class period ahead. I won’t allow myself to consider resting, but the break lurks.
I picture returning with perspective, with energy, with conviction. I imagine being new. I know no other way to find relief. I know no other way to restart.