I just realized something. It may be emotions talking, but: when I was in college, I went to grad school because I wanted to do research, not teach. I knew that the way I would be able to do research in medieval history would be to become a college professor, and I knew that to be a college professor, I would have to teach. If I was going to have to do it, I wanted to do it well, but it was never my first motive for getting a Ph.D.
So I went off to grad school, and discovered that I actually wasn't a bad teacher. In fact, I turned out to be a fairly decent teacher, maybe because I'd gone to a small liberal arts college and so had had good teaching models and been imprinted with the image of educational institutions that focused on teaching. And when I went on the market, I generated interest at teaching institutions.
So, by this time, I was identifying as a teacher. And I recognized that this was different from what I'd originally planned, but you know, people change, blah blah blah.
But what I didn't think about until tonight was how much my attitude to research had changed and how that influenced my attitude to teaching.
Specifically, what I didn't realize was how much my confidence in my ability to do research had been blown to smithereens and scattered to the four winds.
Pretty quickly in my first year in grad school, I had some encounters with my advisor which utterly shattered my confidence in my own research abilities and set the pattern for the rest of my long haul through grad school. (Now, before I go further I should point out that I didn't really have much of a clue what I was doing, so I'm not trying to suggest that said advisor was unfairly denying my native brilliance or something. I definitely had a LOT to learn, though I like to think I had some decent raw ability. I do believe that it would have been possible to learn what I needed to know in a less traumatic way, but I'd have still had to go through it.)
I became convinced that I was, at best, really ordinary as a researcher, and at worst, actually kind of bad. Which helped me focus on teaching as what defined me, my strength, what I brought to the table.
This continued as I started my first tenure-track position, too - I was ABD when I started, so I felt like an academic (research) fraud. But hey, that teaching was going well. And once I finally finished the diss, I spent the next year sort of floundering around, applying for grants and figuring out what I should do next. At the end of that year I got a clue (thanks to a great mentor), but didn't have much to show for the year. And by that time, I'd falled into a particular non-work pattern. I went to the archives and did more primary research, I presented various conference papers, but in some ways I look back and realize that I was spinning my wheels.
When I got here, I was done with the degree and had been for a while; I had a plan for a book that I thought (and still think) would be pretty damn good; and except for not having a book out, my new department seemed very happy with my research/productivity. I've finally got back into my research, got excited about, find myself with things to say - LOTS to say.
Plus, the teaching here has not always been the smoothest of sailing. Actually, the experience of it has been generally positive, but the evaluation hasn't. Which, whatever it really means, has had the effect of making me revisit my sense of myself as a teacher.
I'm not saying that I've realized that I was/am a researcher and nothing but a researcher, a researcher of insight and dazzling brilliance (I still produce stuff relatively slowly, for instance). And I may well simply be flipping back and forth between whatever seems to be working - I suck at research? Never mind, I'm really a TEACHER! I suck at teaching? Never mind, I'm really a SCHOLAR!
What's interesting about the problems I've been having with my teaching is that I think they've allowed me to let go, a little, of how strongly I'd identified as a teacher - an identification I'd fostered due to a complete lack of confidence in my research ability that developed in grad school - a lack of confidence that, I now realize, is a fairly typical thing to happen in grad school - and in response, I've remembered something about why I went into this field in the first place.