You are what you are and you ain't what you ain't.- John Prine
Today being the celebration of Martin Luther King Day, it behooves us to take pause and consider the fact that right now, somewhere in America, some disgruntled old white guy, afeared and worried about the decline of America in the world, is right this minute talking about the days when President's Day was a holiday and there was no day set aside to publicly remember a dissenter and rabble rouser who had the temerity to suggest that all people are equal and that social change does not have to occur with the barrel of a gun pointed in someone's face.
And being as yesterday was a Federal Holiday -- and it was, even before Barack Obama was elected President, in spite of what your skinhead uncle might tell you -- I was not required to be on the penitentiary style campus of Northern Kentucky University... which means I have spent the long weekend across and down the dirty sacred river in Louisville.
If there are any ENG 291 students reading this blog... though I am reasonably sure there aren't ... you have no need to fear. I will be back in town in plenty of time for class tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.
Last week was my first week back on the other side of the Big Desk in some time, and of course, it went off with all the help that Murphy's Law could give. The bus didn't stop to pick me up on the first day, the copies of my syllabus weren't ready, the book I picked to use was not available in the bookstore, and I had no access to the campus intraweb because my presence had not quite been made official.
(That would later be temporarily complicated by the fact that I was still In The System from my last stint at NKU back in 2004-2005. The Machine never forgets, Dear Readers. It all really does go down in your permanent record.)
My two classes meet at 8:00 and 9:00 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. That's 8:00 and 9:00 IN THE GAWD AWFUL MORNING. I gravitate towards morning classes for two very important reasons:
1. a job, like medicine, is best when it is gotten over with early; and
2. no one wants them, which tends to put me in better position to pick up work... when I need to.
The students in these classes -- at least the 8AM class -- are probably there because every other section that fit in their schedules was full. And also because required general ed classes, like medicine, are best when they are gotten over with early.
Being back at NKU is interesting, not only in the sense of seeing what hasn't changed, but in noticing what has.
For example: me.
when I taught at NKU in '04, I was hungry for a full time teaching gig. A year into my second marriage, we had moved from Knoxville, where I could only find work as a mall janitor under a despotic and small-minded supervisor, Fat Mike. (Fat was not the Christian name given him by his parents; but I suspect they rethought that after he ate them and as they digest slowly over a thousand years.) I wanted to be a team player, but I was confident that I knew what I knew, that I was given the best education that looming lifelong debt could buy, and that my mission was clear.
I was young, alright, Young in the ways of the machine, even though I'd had plenty of experience that should have made me otherwise. But while it may be the mark of a fool to not learn from your mistakes, it's the mark of true insight to recognize that you have, in the past, been a dumbass.
I've also been recalling, in bits and pieces, my first departure from NKU. The then Writing Program Director, now Interim Chair, had put up with me as long as he could. Not only was I canceling class early when everyone was actually finished with what they had to do (stretching a class to an appropriate length is what passes for consumer care in higher education... making sure that students/consumers feel that the exorbitant amount of tuition they pay is justified by the amount of time they sit not paying attention in class... but I reeked of a lack of professionalism that rubbed the then Writing Program Director the wrong way. I never dressed office casual. I was never clean-shaven, and rarely keep up on my hair cut regimen.
[NOTE: CLEARLY THESE THINGS HAVEN'T CHANGED.]
I was, of course, operating on a basic mis-assumption... that I would be judged as an educator by the improvements made by my students over the course of the class. Yes, yes. Silly, I know. But I was young. And a fool.
When I left I turned in my key... to the Part-timer corral, and the copy room, I believe... and left. Upon my return, I discovered that my keys were never returned to the key keeping authority.
Add that to the fact that I was still in the computer system as being a sometimes employee, and you get a notion as to how things are dealt with in higher education.
Being back, and being free of the urge for full-time employment does have perks. And so does being able to learn from my own experience. While I am, I hope, free of the hubris that drove me in my early 30's, I am not -- as I near my 40th turn around the sun -- particularly worried about coming off as a professional. I don't want to be thought of a professional. I don't want to act like a professional.
Professionalism kills art, murders intellect, and scars the soul. I hope I still have it in me to be a good teacher, and that I can convey the importance of writing and critical thinking, even at the undignified hours of 8 and 9 in the morning.