You know that meme, What Professors Really Do? It shows what others think we do, and what we actually do — tons and tons of paperwork. We get lost in paperwork; we fritter away in details. It doesn’t show what I thought I would do. When I was an undergrad, I imagined my professors sitting in their offices reading interesting books and talking to each other about cutting-edge theories. I thought they spent their lives in intellectual conversation. I remember seeing my poetry professor walk across campus one fall day, the golden and brown leaves swirling around his legs as he strode along, lost in thought, books tucked under his tweed with suede elbow patch clad arm. I think that moment sealed my fate. It was so Romantic, so ideal.
Reality — I do shift a lot of paper, metaphorically and physically. I fritter much. My time is often spent in administrative tasks — committee work, grade reporting, advising reports, club budgets and service reports, event planning, meeting planning, meeting, meeting, meeting. Department duties, university duties. All that then there’s teaching — five classes, an overload. Freshman Composition, Sophomore British Literature Survey, upper-level literature courses, graduate courses. This semester I’m teaching every level — freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, MA.
The time and space for intellectual conversation, for reading interesting books, is terribly limited. Fortunately, my mentor and friend, Janet Land, is the director of our new Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). She has started book discussion groups and is giving us a space to discuss important ideas and to plot to change the world.
Because that’s what I thought I would be doing. In my own small way, I thought I would be changing the world. Instead we often get so caught up in the tasks, the duties, that we don’t take time to see big picture, to see the structure, to change the world.
Friday afternoon, I took time to go to the coffee shop with a friend FOR NO REASON. No meeting, no agenda. And I noticed a book on the counter behind the college kid who was tending the register. An Introduction to Conducting. How neat, I thought, a book on conducting! And I looked around and remembered being an undergrad. For just a moment I recalled the wonder — we are in one space with a couple thousand young people who are all studying and learning and exploring. It’s not the paper. It’s the space. The discussions.
We have to remember we can change the world. And then we have to make space and time to do so.