I have a very clear memory of my first experience in the classroom while a graduate student in the Philosophy Department at the University of Maryland. If I remember correctly, the department needed someone at the last minute to take over an introductory course that met once a week from 7-9:45pm. For some reason I agreed to do it. No one prepped me for the class or offered any suggestions as to how to begin. This was nothing less than a case of being thrown to the wolves. I remember walking into the room, placing my bag on the desk, looking out at a class of roughly 20 and walking straight out. My heart was beating uncontrollably and I was beginning to sweat. I decided to take a walk around the building to gather my thoughts and relax – to whatever extent possible. On the way back I bought a soda and decided to walk in and just start the class with a question. I don’t remember the question I asked, but once that first student raised her hand the class was on its way. We were talking, sharing ideas, and I was absolutely hooked. There were chalkboards on every side of the room and I had students jot down some of their thoughts so the class would have them as reference points. By the end all three were completely filled. I forgot to give the class a break mid-way through and even forgot to introduce myself before I dismissed the class at 9:45. If I walked in without any sense of what I was doing or who I was as a teacher I walked back to my apartment convinced that I wanted to teach.
At the time I was only in my second year (1993) of graduate school. I never really thought about teaching as a career. My father worked for 35 years as a high school teacher and he loved his job, especially the students. He awoke early and was in school by 6am. He never suggested teaching as a career; however, it is now clear to me that having a parent with such a positive experience in the field made it easier to conceive of the possibility of a teaching career. By the way, my father has proved to be one of my closest confidants in all things teaching. I can share both the positives and negatives and he knows immediately what I am talking about. His advice has proved to be incredibly valuable over the years. Since 1993 I’ve spent just about every year in the classroom at both the college/community college and high school level. Before moving to Charlottesville I spent 2 years teaching philosophy to some of the brightest high school students I’ve ever come across at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science in Mobile, Alabama. I taught an introductory level course and a range of upper-level electives, including Metaphysics (not the bullshit variety that you find in your Self-Help and Spiritual sections of the bookstore), Cognitive Science, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion. The readings for the electives were straight out of graduate level courses and I often found myself asking the students to explain ideas and theories to me. We attracted the brightest students from around the state and was by far the most intense teaching experience of my career. In addition to ASMS I taught part-time in the Philosophy Department at Spring Hill College.
I’ve been in my present position for six years and have enjoyed every minute of it. Teaching has given me a way to spend most of my waking hours thinking about subjects that I am passionate about and interacting with energetic young adults.
As difficult as it is to admit, for the first time this year I am beginning to feel tired. This is not to suggest that I am no longer enjoying my job; in fact, it is the enjoyment and energy I put in that is the concern. I teach 4 classes a day and by 2:30-3:00pm I am emotionally drained. At night I replay in my mind what happened in class, my conversations with individual students and the rest of the faculty. I often dream about my classes, which can be incredibly depressing especially if you experience it right before waking in the morning. In the past I’ve had difficulty talking with former or active teachers who claim to be "burned-out." Now please understand that I am not burned-out, but I do have a more empathetic grasp of what is being referred to when referenced. The most difficult part of all of this is dealing with the feelings of guilt that I am even questioning what has been such a personally rewarding career.
I have no intention of leaving the field in the next few years, but I am already beginning to think about possible alternatives to the classroom. My wife is currently working on her Ph.D in Neuroscience at the University of Virginia and expects to be finished within 2-3 years. I’ve already decided that her job prospects will dictate where we move and we hope to end up closer to a more urban setting such as Chicago, Boston, New York, or Washington. This opens up a number of possibilities for me. There is no guarantee that I will be able to find a teaching job and it might be an opportune time to explore other lines of work. I could easily see myself working in a museum or historical society doing a wide range off things, including educational outreach. To that end I am going to try to set up some kind of summer internship in a museum or historical society where I can gain a better sense of what goes on behind the scenes. I am excited about what doors, if any, this may open. Please feel free to offer any suggestions/advice as I am all ears.