I was touched by a retirement party held Thursday for me, a surprise that happened on the same day that I entered my last student onto the database, and had my last grading meeting. There was a poster, two large cakes, a feast with 17th St. barbecue; in short, they went all out.
There was what is traditionally called "a roast", but you would have to characterize it as mild; colleagues agreed with me that it was actually sweet, and it was clear how much I would be missed after eighteen years and how much I had contributed to the place.
It's bittersweet of course to clean out my office and dump literally hundreds of pounds of old course files, not to mention grading sheets, articles of interest, printed-out webpages, etc. To some degree I am reminded of both good times and bad. It has been enormously difficult to keep up the workload, but at the same time I've always loved all my colleagues and have never been sorry that I chose this career. I did find that, having gone into teaching college ESL, it was harder than I expected to simply move over, or switch to high school, or go over to a junior college, etc. In the modern world, if you get a decent job, you tend to keep it. And that gives you experience in a single field. I find this with our search committee too; we hire those who have done like what we do.
Back to CESL; it was a great place, a great experience. People stop by and I find myself saying: I have nothing bad to say. The worst I can say is, they tried to overwork me. But that happens anyway. I got plenty of advice for my next gig which will involve teaching linguistics and getting into the field of text linguistics (which needs a proper name). One was: Keep an open mind, keep exploring new things. I was given poetry books and a couple of Funny Times
for good measure. I took up the hallway for a weekend. A few tears were shed. I was proud to say: they noticed, they honored me, they did me right. I was part of a large retiring class (over 300 retired on that same day, more than three times the usual), but my party had its own distinct flavor & I wouldn't trade it for any other. They even got me a huge carrot cake, but, with all the roast, and the talking and all, it was a while before I could even get a bite of it.
One thing that was mentioned was the unruly appearance of both me, and my weblogs, which I suppose have gained some notoriety both at SIUC and around the field. One thing that happens is that people come in looking for information about SIUC before they come to work here, so all the teachers who have come to work at SIUC since I got here, knew me before they knew anything else about SIUC, and, when the web site was deleted, the blogs became even more the only window on what CESL was like. Knowing that the web was the biggest window on us and our life as the world sees it, I always tried to keep it accurate, current, full of useful pictures. But unruly it was, and still is. What can you do? I try to keep useful things on them. As I hand over the CESL ones, I wish everyone well and hope I can truly share and even give away ownership of them. They deserve a new look, a new lease on life.
My office is about half cleaned out; it has maybe twelve or fifteen hours to go. Fortunately nobody is pressuring me intensely; also, it's presently 105 degrees in the shade, wrong time to be driving back and forth with boxes of books and cultural artifacts. Everything must go. Anyone want some plants? Coffee pot? Old CESL soccer trophy from the golden era?
I'm just taking a break; I've entered the last
student's grade into the database; I'm about to go to my last
grading meeting; I'll eat the last
CESL end-of-term lunch, etc. I am still looking at lots of books, papers, files, etc. in my office, and find it hard to get motivated to keep going through it with relentless purging. So instead I'll address a colleagues recent question: how do you keep doing this, keep it up, keep being a good teacher, with this brutal schedule?
First, I grant you, there isn't nearly enough time to do what you'd like. I myself feel that my students deserve a lot of grading and preparation on my part, but there's no way I could put in one hour for every hour I teach, and I have even been told, more or less, not to. Still, grading and preparing is relatively high on my list of priorities. I make my own exams (I make a form, b form and c form whenever necessary), make my own exercises, make students do a lot of reading and writing, and as a result I have always spent a lot
of time just grading and preparing.
Keeping close track of the time you put in, it becomes more obvious that what really chews up the time is the other stuff we do: going to meetings, working with other people to get things done, giving the TOEFL, talking to students who come in really needing to pass, etc. And then there are the interminable "social hours" which, ok, students really love this, but, considering the use of a qualified person's time, has to go at the bottom of the list, since half the time I'm just standing there making small talk. And if you go to St. Louis or something like that, it's even worse: you are on the bus five hours, in the mall three or four, and still all you do is small talk. A rather poor use of a qualified person's time.
Because I put grading and preparing at the top of my list (I have always believed that is what is best for the students) I must ruthlessly defend that time from all other demands. Sure, I long ago gave up going to cultural activities at night, going anywhere on Sundays, etc. But what this really means is cutting back on the way
I do coordinating assignments (I have never been considered the best coordinator/micromanager) so that I could spend more time, literally, on my own students. My stand is that the state pays me to use proper judgment in allocating my time properly; the state also allows me to go out for lunch, by the way, and to take breaks in March and December/January, and I have no complaint at all with the way the state has handled my and my family's health issues to the best that they were capable of. I give them my blood, every 40-45 hour week I've got, and in return they've given me a life, and the ability to bring up my kids. But they put me in charge of time allocation, and they told me, in so many words, there's no way you can put an hour into preparing each hour you teach.
We teachers know how to minimize our own input into a class, but that's not the idea here; if I wanted to be lazy, or, if I really had to
put 30 or 40 hours into something personal, I could and I would. But I don't. Day after day, week after week, I do a lot of prep and grading, because watching them learn language is what I chose to do for a living and basically, I still love that. Tired of it, yes; sorry to be getting out, no, well, maybe a little.
I say this with one foot out the door. I've given my life to this place. I am not sorry. The washed out gray you see on the post below this is the building I see when I get out of the stairwell on my way home from work. No matter what you put on it, the gray wins. The physical plant workers have similarly mixed feelings about maintaining the environment, as I do about coming in day after day. One of the things I've been obsessed with, over the years, is the contrast between fresh leaves, the natural shape of tree branches, against the dull gray rectangular concrete shapes of the building. I kid you not. I'll give you more pix, on the way out.
I am retiring from SIUC when this term ends, on June 30 of this year, so this makes this week the last week 4 I will ever experience in CESL. I will miss CESL a lot; I've been here eighteen years, almost enough for a free gold parking sticker. I am moving to Lubbock TX where my wife will have a very desirable position at Texas Tech.
While it is true that to some degree she is dragging me kicking and screaming out of here, I agreed also, because it was time for a change, and because I needed to be nearer to my parents who are in Las Cruces NM. While I was happy here and could easily have worked five or ten more years, I was beginning to feel like this pile (which you see below this post) was getting just a little too old.
As I search through my papers I encounter old things and occasionally have the urge to post about them. I've actually had a lot of ideas that I've always wanted to post about, and millions of stories I could tell, stories from the trenches, so to speak, since basically I have just been teaching, and watching carefully, full time, for eighteen years. There is a lot I can say about teaching internationals. This blog could be a fount of new ideas, yet I've gotten a little tired, a little less likely to speak out, as time goes on. Another good reason to move.
One thing I'd like to do is tell stories from the trenches here. Just stories. Life is interesting; in fact it's been great, I've loved every minute, I've been so busy, I've been literally unable to write it down.
At Texas Tech I will teach Linguistics and an ITA course; I will also be a tutor in a writing lab. And even so it will only be three-quarters time and I may be home for the kids when they come home from school. I don't know what life will hold but I hope it will hold writing; this has been one of the better things I've done. I'm aware that not a huge audience actually reads this blog (for an accurate count, click on the little green button at the bottom). I've done very little to make it more commercial, or even more appealing. I've used it mostly for my own purposes, to collect my thoughts, to organize, to store information and ideas, and to talk about what I love, which is language and the process of learning one. I see no reason to change what I've been doing that way. It's not like I'm selling template ads or anything.
Labels: cesl, personal