There are days in which I am so overworked, I wonder if this job -- a college professor -- is truly worth it. Feeling over committed and little appreciated. Too much time spent on committee work that is taken for granted. Being a parent of young children makes keeping up my pre-kid work style (e.g., workaholic) impossible. It does not help that, because of dynamics in my hiring cohort, I am one the lowest paid tenured faculty at my campus.
The "math" of how much we spend on our job does not quite calculate, as reported in a wonderful but depressing essay by Nate Kreuter. This is in contrast to a popular idea that college professors have the least stressful jobs in the United States. #Firstworldproblems is a popular hashtag to indicate we - as privileged faculty in the US - have really nothing to complain about; a great example is the essay by Gene Fant, Jr. that describes the international comparison of faculty.
The bright light that draws me closer to my job and swings me into "appreciation mode" is remembering what my students go through and their journey to get to college.
It may seem cliche to say my students are what motivate me to be the best professor possible. I learn about their stories on a weekly basis, mostly in office hours and after class. I have decided to keep track of them; they are the fuel when my tank is empty.
I share here, in just two days of each other, what I learned about my students.
> After squeaking by graduating from high school, F worked as a janitor in a mall. He was taking out the trash and noticed a catalog for MiraCosta College. He paused to look through it and could not believe all the classes that a person could take. He put the catalog in his back pocket and began mopping the floors. Around midnight, he realized that if wanted to do more than be a janitor, he needed to go to school. Something in him told him he could do more. He had thought being undocumented prevented him, but decided - that week - to fill out the application. In two weeks, he was accepted. He eventually transferred to my university, graduated, and then was accepted to our MA program. Even though he was apprehended and deported just as he finished his thesis, he is currently applying to doctoral programs from abroad.
> G's family told her that she learned to read at the age of 4 years old. She would go with her father to the agricultural fields of San Clemente, CA to sell food to the workers. Some of the elderly women (on their breaks) would sit in the dirt with her to teach her letters in Spanish. Her parents tell her that is why she ended up going to college and why she is so smart. In our meeting, G reflected to me that her dad was not just selling food, but giving advice, clothing, resources, and even created an informal lending system. G took two classes from me - an intro level and a senior level - and earned strong grades. Consistent, intelligent and ambitious, G had come to talk with me today about going to graduate school. As we talked about what she might include in a personal statement for MSW programs, she realized that her dad was her first role model for the profession. Loved seeing her experience that "aha" moment!
How lucky am I? How lucky are we to be a small part of these students' journeys.
Being there. Being open. Listening. Being curious about their lives. Taking the time to pause and not worry for 20 minutes about the next appointment, the massive pile of grading, and the shopping that must be done before picking up the kids from daycare.
This is the reason it all ends up working. Students' lives and dreams. When I remember this, 10 years into the profession, I can drive to campus and look forward to the day.