September 23, 2013 by Jean
In this, my last year of work at my academic career, I find the fact that this is my last year front and center in my consciousness. Retiring is the most important thing happening to me this year. I reflect on it in this blog, it is a frequent topic in my conversations with others, and it is easy to forget that it is not the most important thing in everyone’s world.
One of the courses I am teaching this semester is the required Research Methods course for sociology majors. This is a notoriously difficult course for students and a challenging teaching assignment for faculty, as both must work very hard to cover the required material in the time available. One day recently, I found myself recounting a long, complicated personal anecdote in class. The anecdote started out as a relevant example; but by the time I got to the end of it, even I had lost track of its intended purpose. What’s more, I had never gotten to the end of a list of three essential points that this anecdote had interrupted. I eventually got myself back on track, apologized to the students for my lack of focus (blaming the time of day the class meets), and recovered the third item in the list. As I walked back to my office after class, though, I asked myself what in the world had gotten into me! I’m usually very organized and disciplined in my approach to teaching. Students evaluating my courses often comment on how efficiently I use every moment of class time. And of all the courses I teach, this is the one in which class time is most precious. In this course, of all places, I can’t afford to engage in nostalgic story-telling.
So what had come over me? On reflection, I decided that I had succumbed to the temptation of self-indulgence, a self-indulgence fostered by putting my experience of retirement at the center of my consciousness. But my teaching this semester is not all about me; it is, as always, about my students’ intellectual growth and their development of important lifetime learning skills. The Research Methods course, in particular, is critical to students’ transformation from undergraduate students into mature professionals. They must develop habits of hard work and discipline to succeed in this course, and they must learn to be self-starters who do not cut corners or try to slide by on the minimum amount of effort expended. They are expected to think like social science researchers and to master important skills for acquiring and evaluating information.
While I was embarrassed by this moment (well, actually, several moments) of self-indulgence in class, the incident served an important function by bringing the temptation of self-indulgence to the front of my consciousness. Once I was aware of it, I could see a number of other instances of self-indulgence on my part that did not necessarily enhance my students’ learning experiences. Now I am on the look-out for temptations to self-indulgence, the better to resist them. There will be plenty of time to indulge myself after I retire. For my last months of teaching, I need to keep my reflections on retirement here in this blog and keep my focus in the classroom where it belongs – on my students.