a Teaching Life

So I’m on the internet trying to find out why my favorite devotional app keeps quitting and I come across a blog on surviving the tenure track. Seriously? I think to myself, why would this subject be of value to anyone beyond its author? And then I realize two things. 1) Even people in the community college circles I run in are terrified of the process and 2) There’s a niche for every writer – I just haven’t found my subject yet. I read on but get stalled and have to start writing again when I realize the reason this preoccupation never attached itself to me. I never intended to be a faculty member. But perhaps more importantly, I am a woman of faith. Now, before your eyes roll into the back of your head, and you have to call a medic to put an ice pack on the thunk you inadvertently gave your forehead, allow me to explain.
My experience (the thing I call faith since it’s a daily relationship and not a spontaneous occasion induced by crisis) tells me that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, trying as deliberately as you can to avoid putting said appendage anywhere near your mouth, something will happen if only you stay the course. And, if the something that happens doesn’t appear to be ‘good’ (aka what you’d hoped for) at the moment, wait a spell. When God closes a door, He often opens a hole in the ground large enough to swallow you and your humiliation bodily. In my case, when I entered the tenure track through the back door 23 years ago, what happened was my then best friend proposed marriage. I accepted. The apartment we were to call home after the honeymoon magically became unavailable when the landlord discovered we were a bi-racial couple and the next landlord whose offer of a five-bedroom home was too gracious for a freelance writer and starving artist to accept offered me a job. Again, silly me, I accepted. Of course, then having a Master’s in journalism, I felt it likely that I would be able to write the newsletter the job description required. What I hadn’t factored into the equation was the politics of the academic life and the institutionalized racism I’d have to empower students to confront once my boss retired – which he did within nine months of my arrival.
In short, I wasn’t trying to become part of the faculty there or anywhere else. It just so happened that the chair of the English Department whose office shared the recruitment and retention program’s suite where I worked invited me to apply for a teaching position and, having learned the hard way, I waited a year before accepting the invitation, applying for the job, and getting hired. Tenure simply crept up on me. In fact, two weeks before I received the official letter of appointment to the tenured faculty, I realized it was my destiny. On a train-ride home, I realized – yes, you can call me slow – that not only had my aunts and grandmother been teachers, but that my great grandfather had been the headmaster of his own school. I’d never visited this school, nor had there been much conversation about it while I was growing up. It was simply something in the DNA.
Since then, I’ve continued putting one foot in front of the other to enter various classrooms semester after semester, year after year. I’ve weathered storms, survived enormous political upheaval, and personal attacks. I’ve left the professoriate to return to administration and even thrown in the towel entirely once or twice. But always, by one means or another, God, in His infinite sense of humor, continues to bring me back to teaching. In this way, I’ve learned how to not ‘sweat the small stuff’. In this way, I’ve learned to do so not because it doesn’t matter but because it DOES. Nothing in the grand scheme of things is small. Each day, each decision, is epic. So, when I look at it that way, how can I worry?
The preceding is an example of a conclusion not earned but drafted. It’s a place to start, in an ongoing writing practice. It’s a marker on the map of where I’ve been and a warning – don’t answer the phone in the middle of a writing session. Cross-contamination is inevitable but then too, it brings other stories, other places to start, other strings of spaghetti to throw against the mental wall. Which one will stick next? Which one will feed someone, somewhere?
If nothing else, I can celebrate the fact that I got today’s 750 words down before noon. And, PS: The app I love is My Utmost For His Highest whose subject for today is, not coincidentally, The Key to the Missionary’s Devotion.
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