I moved back into my office/retreat this weekend. I gave it up to accommodate a friend who was in bad straits financially. The couple of months she said she needed to stay here turned into nearly two years but her health became so bad that her family was asked to help. She moved out about a month or so ago and I finally had a spare weekend to move back into the guest house.
While moving back in to the guest house, I kept saying, “I am NEVER giving my space up again.” I made my DH promise to remind me of this oath if I am ever tempted to relinquish my personal writing space again.
While I was moving boxes of books from the basement (where my temporary office was) I remembered I had boxes of items from my office when I taught at Indiana State University in the storage area of the guest house. Because the guest house was once more going to be my office, I started to pull those boxes out of storage. As I unpacked the boxes and sifted through the fragments of my time at ISU, there were bitter-sweet memories. I found the small mementos given to me by students and co-workers that used to hang in the fake ficus tree in my office. Two tiny pair of Chucks brought to mind one of the amazing students who worked for me in the Writing Center and her tale of attending prom in a formal gown and a pair of Chuck Taylor high tops. A hand blown glass ornament brought a smile to my face, recalling the instructor who gave that to me one Christmas. A fake apple, completely covered in brilliant red seed beads, hangs now in a window in my office, catching the light as it twists in the breezes that move through this office. A Christmas ornament with the word “JOY” carved through it was held for several long moments and I let the faces of the couple who gave that to me fill my memory for those long moments.
Hanging on the wall right next to me are two plaques from the First Year Initiative Program, thanking me for my dedication to first year student success. To earn one of these plaques, an instructor must be nominated by a freshman student. I look at them now and can only laugh at how treasured they are to me—and I don’t mean the plaques. I am referring to those students in all the sections of freshman composition I have taught. Each student was unique and special and brought something priceless to the classroom and their own writing—and that was their own voice.
I found the massive folder with my master copy of the Writing Center Tutor Training Manual, as well as the copies of many, many articles I printed out and had copied for the weekly teaching/trouble-shooting session that was held with the consultants in the Writing Center. That folder hurt. Finding that felt like a knife into my heart because that was another career path I gave up—not because I wanted to, but because through politics, I was forced to. Regrettable was one word I heard used about that situation. That still isn’t among the words I use when I think of the end of my tenure with the Writing Center.
I discovered the master copies of my prof packs that I made up for teaching freshman composition. Each pack had a section on short stories and the lively, sometimes heated discussions about those short stories flooded my thoughts. Sometimes, I know my students amazed themselves with how much they could and did get out of a short story.
Part of me wants to say that I miss being in the classroom, and yet another part of me says, “No, you don’t.” I miss the interaction with students. I miss watching at-risk students grow and strengthen in their writing abilities. I miss following the journey of a student realizing that they did have a voice, what they had to say (albeit in writing) had value, was not belittled, and a coherent argument could be made. I miss that. I miss the laughter that often filled my classroom, because I was never above admitting I can’t spell worth a darn and would have to pause while writing something on the board to think about how a word was spelled. I miss the discussions. I miss the students who challenged me to be a better instructor. I miss all of that and so much more.
I don’t miss the grading and if I could have figured out how to teach a course on composition without having to grade papers, I would have. I don’t miss the students who didn’t care and no matter what I did would not be reached. I don’t miss the politics inherent in any institution of learning. I don’t miss the late nights planning a lesson. I don’t miss the assembly line approach to higher education. Nope. I don’t miss any of that.