I've mentioned before that teaching philosophy can seem pretty thankless. I am always surprised—and I was reminded this week that I mention this surprise every semester, so my memory isn't too good either, I guess—that students actually enjoy my classes and request to take more classes with me. I am surprised because looking into the sea (or pond) of faces present in a typical class on a typical day I see mostly looks of confusion, boredom, frustration and a little bit of anger.
In part, I can understand this. Philosophy and issues like what makes me the same person today as the person who was born in Austin in 1973 matter a lot to me; they are important and I think that they can be deeply mysterious. But, these aren't issues that matter as much to my students, and listening to someone go on about things he cares about can be pretty painful if you don't also care about them. So, I understand. I understand, but to understand is not, in fact, to excuse.
But, twice this week, students held me after class, not to worry about their grades or what particular issues were most likely to appear on the final. No, they held me after to talk about philosophical issues and the way that they actually impact their lives. In one case, it was issues about the existence of God and our access or lack of access to theological truths. In the other, it was Meno's paradox and how we can learn anything and what it means to communicate how to be a good person to one's children.
To get to be that professor—lecturer, technically—who is standing around talking to students about important issues that relate to class is such a nice feeling. It makes me feel like what I do matters and matters to the very heart of my students' lives. And it makes me about as happy as I can be.