Thankfully, my afternoon group were as good-natured and engaged as they've been throughout the term, so my teaching career ended, if not with a bang, at least in a pleasant fashion (especially nice because before my earlier class I had to have a raging fight with a student about hir grade. No, I cannot overlook the fact that you did not take 40% of the quizzes and did not attend 30% of the classes just because you're confident that you met the goals of the course as stated in the syllabus). Well, I shouldn't say my teaching career has ended, because I have to grade a bunch of papers, write an exam, and then grade the exams, but the next time I attend class, it will be as a student.
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this.
I have a lovely former colleague who has expressed regret that I'm going to law school, because she thinks it's a waste of a great teacher. It's terribly sweet of her to say so (and she has actually seen me teach quite a bit, so at least can claim to have evidence of my greatness, although I still think she's just being nice), but I don't really agree; my opinion of my teaching has declined quite a bit in the last four years. When I worked at Rural Utopia I thought I was a pretty decent teacher (though I have never thought that I didn't have plenty to learn or plenty of room for improvement), perhaps because my teaching worked well there. Former College shook my confidence in my teaching ability, because according to any number of people, my teaching didn't work well there, and though I think I tried to improve and adjust - and might have done so successfully, given a bit more time - I didn't figure it out in time (though honestly? I'm not sure I'd have have felt truly comfortable teaching there). I think my current gig has split the difference; I've done fine here - not brilliantly, but fine.
On the one hand, being a good teacher used to be a significant part of my identity, and it feels a little sad to let that go, for good. On the other hand, something useful I've learned from all this is (as corny as it sounds) that I can't rely on external approval for my sense of self-worth. People (faculty and students) at Rural Utopia thought I was a spiffy teacher. People at Former College did not. But I didn't change; I didn't decide to transform myself on landing in Former College City; I was still me, and still the same teacher. Sure, a better teacher than I would have adjusted better to Former College than I did, but it's a little bit like responding to reader's reviews: some readers love an essay and some readers hate it, and you can't control their reactions. You can always revise and improve an essay - and sometimes the friendly readers don't push you hard enough to improve it - but there are some readers you're never going to satisfy, and at the end of the day, you have to do with the essay what you feel is right. You have to decide what you think works and what doesn't, and think about why you've done what you've done, and ultimately the only one you need to satisfy is you. Teaching is the same. Which is not to say that I don't still crave praise - I do - or that this means you don't have to pay attention to what others say - you do. But if you judge yourself by what others think of you, you're building your house on sand. (Okay, can I add any MORE cliches to this paragraph??) (And can I ask you remind me of this brilliant conclusion when I get my first semester grades next year?)
Anyway, endings, even happy ones, are always at least a little bit sad, so I'm sad to face this particular one. But I'm also glad to stop teaching. Despite all my fine words above, I'm really tired of trying to gauge the effectiveness of my courses in the reactions of nineteen-year-olds who know nothing about my subject and are only taking my class to fulfill a requirement. Once that frustration outweighs the enthusiasm for the moments when students really do learn, it's time to stop.
(When I started this post I thought I'd talk a little about how I found the differences between being a tenure-track person and being a lecturer to play out in my teaching, but this is long enough for one day - I'll come back to the contingent faculty thing at some future date. And if I say as much here, I might even remember to do so.)