Another semester draws to a close. In the brief time between the last class and the deluge of assignments and exams to be graded there's space for reflection. What did I do well? What did I do poorly? How did I connect and fail to connect with students and their concerns and needs?
I tend to focus most on the ways things haven't gone well. I'm usually better at thinking about failures than I am successes. Imposter syndrome—assuming it's a syndrome and I'm not really an imposter—also has a role here.
This post isn't about being maudlin, though. There's a lot more end-of-the-year reflection to come and much of that will be penitential in nature. Instead, I want to say a couple of things about the beauty of doing what I do.
I don't know that I'm a great teacher. I know I get things wrong. I know I can bore students. I know I care deeply about things that don't interest them. I said this wasn't going to reflect on my failings, so I also know that I get to interact with young, creative, reflective, curious minds. I don't know how much of an impact I make. I don't necessarily think that many of my students will remember me particularly after a few years.
Someone I follow on Twitter who teaches theology mused this week on how being forgotten was a sort of blessing; it also requires a certain kind of discipline. But, as Freud noticed, transience enhances rather than detracts from beauty, from value.
I hope, though, that some little thing we've talked about or some discussion we've had or some comment one of them has made will rest in their minds or in their memories and germinate later in their lives or careers. Even though I teach one of the more useful parts of philosophy—most of my classes are ethics of one sort or another—it is still part of one of the clearly least useful disciplines. Hell, we even pride ourselves on that fact. So, it's not as if they will be consciously using what we've talked about as they design new vehicles or logistical systems or command troops or make hiring decisions or do whatever it is that people in the real world do.
What I know is that every semester my students touch and change me. If there's anything like grace, that's a bit of it.