June 1st, 2009

Retirement Reflections: Things I Will and Won’t Miss After 33 Years of Teaching

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Editor’s note: Maryellen Weimer, editor of The Teaching Professor penned the following column upon her retirement in 2007. As you read it, we encourage you to think about the things you will and won’t miss when you retire. Share your thoughts in the comment box.

I am just about to retire from Penn State and leave my faculty position teaching undergraduates. I’ll still be working; there’s this newsletter to edit and a world of faculty who still need advice, ideas, and encouragement to do their very best in the classroom. But you don’t end 33 years of college teaching without thinking about those things that will and won’t be missed on campus. Here’s my list.

Things I’ll miss:

  • The nervous anticipation of going to class, rehearsing my lines as I drive to campus, thinking about all that’s possible, believing that I just might be able to make some of it happen.
  • Those days in class when students get it. Sometimes that new understanding shines from their faces, sometimes they make a comment that attests to how well they’ve got it, and sometimes they report the details in a paper. Sometimes they give you credit. Even if they don’t, it’s still an event worthy of witness.
  • Those days in class when I get it. When I see how to connect content to students; efforts to learn to appropriate processes; and students to the insights, ideas, and motivation of other students.
  • Seeing seniors at graduation and remembering how they looked that first day of their first semester in college.
  • Watching students who started out failing or doing poorly learning to succeed.
  • Colleagues whose passion for teaching spreads enough hot coals to light new fires and rekindle others when their embers burn low or die out.
  • Colleagues who use their fine minds, keen intellects, and inquisitive sensibilities to tackle teaching and learning with intellectual robustness.

Things I won’t miss

  • Those bright, capable students who don’t care and won’t make an effort. Those students full of potential who happily do work just barely above the line that marks acceptable.
  • Colleagues who have given up on teaching and are doing time in the classroom—the ones who’ve locked themselves out of meaningful, trusting relationships by using policies and practices that render all encounters with students adversarial.
  • Colleagues who blame students for what they aren’t accomplishing as teachers.
  • End-of-course student evaluations that ask irrelevant questions and give administrators data from which to draw dubious conclusions.
  • Peer reviews where the Lake Wobegon effect devalues any teaching that is truly above average.
  • Grading papers so full of grammatical errors that it’s difficult to see beyond them to the ideas behind them.
  • Students so full of excuses there’s no room left for learning.
  • Students with whom conversations never get past the points—those taken off, missed, totaled, awarded for extra credit, given, earned, offered as bonus, secured surreptitiously, or bought on the black market.
  • Those days in class when I can’t make it happen, when my best efforts don’t make a difference. Those days when passivity, like fog, settles over the classroom, when students yawn and nod off and no amount of enthusiasm cuts through the chill of complacency—those days when only the cold signifies that this place isn’t teaching hell.

If you’re retiring this year, please share some of the things you will and won’t miss by clicking on the Add Comment button.