September 7, 2013 by Jean
I’ve been lucky. I have not slogged through life, forcing myself to go off each morning to a job I hate. On the contrary, I have had a career that has been intellectually, emotionally, and financially rewarding. As I’ve returned to Gettysburg College for my last year of teaching before I retire, several people have noted that these last months of work will be “bittersweet.” In paying attention to my emotions as I go about my work each day, I’m finding this an apt description.
When I walked into my department’s newly renovated space for the first time three weeks ago, I found the walls decorated with framed photographs of my garden, taken from the gift calendars I create each year. I was completely surprised by this, and it was sweet.
Then I walked down the hall and opened my office door to find an overwhelming jumble of unplaced furniture and unpacked boxes. Bitter.
For the first two weeks of classes, I’ve been meeting individually with all my new students and getting to know them. Sweet.
Last weekend, I had to work almost a full day on Sunday to get all the reading and grading done in preparation for this week’s classes. I hate having to give up evenings and weekends as leisure time once school starts. Bitter.
This week, I’ve had really wonderful class discussions in two of my courses – the kinds of discussions where I learn something new about material I’ve been teaching for years. Sweet.
By Tuesday evening, I was already backed up with grading, with three sets of papers (one from each course) demanding my attention. Bitter.
On Wednesday evening, I gave a talk in a large introductory class; the students were lively and engaged and several stayed behind after the lecture was over to talk further. Sweet.
By the time I left campus to go home that evening, I had been there for 13 hours, working nonstop, and I was exhausted. Bitter.
I learned that the college library is about to mount an exhibit of my garden photography. Sweet.
On Thursday night, after less than two weeks of classes, I broke my resolution to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. I stayed up grading papers until after midnight and crawled into bed less than 6 hours before my alarm clock would go off at 5:45 a.m. Bitter.
On Friday, as I was walking back to my office after my 9 a.m. class, a student I didn’t know stopped me on the sidewalk and said, “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your lecture the other night.” Sweet.
The bitter items in this list are the parts of my job that I don’t enjoy – grading and long, exhausting work hours that leave little time or energy for anything else. While the experience of these is bitter, the realization that I’ll be done with them forever in a few months is sweet! On the other hand, many of the sweet items (e.g., personal interaction with students and class discussion), are the parts of my job I love and find rewarding and that I know I will miss. Other sweet items, however, (e.g., gardening and photography) represent parts of my life that I will have more time for after I retire and the anticipation of those opportunities is sweet.
While the description of my last months of work as “bittersweet” is apt, I am finding that the sweet outweighs the bitter. There are aspects of work I will miss, but I am looking forward eagerly to retirement.