Thursday, June 01, 2006


App Crit mentioned, in his comments on my last post, the question of the melancholia involved in transition. Yes. So how to face this, I ask, because it's taking hold just a little hard for my liking. Anybody have any perspectives on how to deal with decision-making and loss in this teaching world? I know at least a couple of you academic bloggers have made major, lonely decisions lately…

I just went out for a goodbye drink with some friends on my last night in Canadian University City. Besides my lovely, hilarious comrades – and saying goodbye to them was enough to wreck me – there were, unexpectedly, students. Students who turned up at the bar at the end of the night because they’d heard through the grapevine I’d be there (?). And then came up to me one after the other to tell me really, really nice things about their experiences in my classes – including Tough Student, from yesterday. Tough Student told me that Best Student has changed her instant messenger name to “sad” this week because I’m on my way. Ugh. I cried all the way home.

I keep worrying that I’ve made the wrong choice, in turning down the offer to stay here. Was I wrong to make the career decision over the emotional one? In rational terms, I know I wasn’t. There were promises of a long-term future here, but nobody could guarantee anything yet. And so why not go to the new university, a “better” one, where there are also possibilities of a permanent future?

But, but, but, how do we deal with our transient connections to students? Where do we “put” those, what do we do with them when we or they move on? This question has broader relevance, of course. We are constantly saying goodbye to students, not only when we’re leaving one institution for another. If I stayed, for example, I’d only have one more year with these folks who came out to see me. So I guess I’m wondering what we can do to mitigate or at least manage or maybe confront this awful feeling…

But there’s a horrifically large insect buzzing at my window screen, trying to get in and eat me, so I think I’ll leave you with that question, turn off my seductive light, and go to bed…


App Crit said...

Melancholia indeed.

It seems an inevitable part of the academic life, one so full of transitions. Very few of us actually find a situation immediately after taking the PhD that will keep us till our retirement. The greater lot of us start by "getting our foot in the door," and teaching and publishing our way up the academic cursus honorum.

At worst, you won't have the sort of community that you've enjoyed. But you'll then be able to generate new prospects and move on. At best, you'll be inspired in new ways by your new colleagues and students, and it may just become home.

You know all these things, of course, but it may help to know that many of us suffer transitions similarly, or at least I do.

To mitigate it, I immerse myself into my new situation even before I arrive, by striking up e-mail conversations with future colleagues, phoning the secretaries and asking questions about procedure, etc. If possible, I show up early, even if awkwardly so, to learn the library if nothing else. Then term begins, and the halls fill with students. The black bile recedes and is replaced by good memories, and I enjoy seeing old colleagues at conferences.

The hardest part, for me, is wondering when I will have found my academic home. I haven't yet.

Excellent post, again. And top billing--brilliant!

Cheers, Hilaire

Hilaire said...

Thanks, app crit. I think we have a lot in common. Like you, I haunted the hallways and offices of this university when I arrived, before classes started. Trying to make connections with folks. And I have definite plans to do the same at the new uni. And you're right that I will make connections with new students and colleagues - I just think I'm too new at this to always *remember* that. It'll be good - and I have to remember that this new uni I've been hired at is where I've always said I wanted to be. So stop my whining!

Thanks for your support, app crit.

MaggieMay said...

Great post and comments.

When I first started teaching, I felt the kind of loss you describe so acutely; when some of my best students graduated, I thought: "I'll never, ever have a student like him/her again!!!"

...And I haven't, but I've also learned that the constant prospect of loss also means the continual potential for newness and regeneration. And I've met different, but just as wonderful, students. And while I still have those feelings of loss, I'm also excited by the fact that my students --OUR students-- are out there in the world, (hopefully) making things better, making good change.

I also wonder, though, do any of us ever find our academic homes, institutions that fit perfectly? I don't know...