Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Home for the Holidays

At the end of the movie Home for the Holidays* Holly Hunter's character stands at the boarding gate at an airport as her parents hug her, fuss over her, remember her as a baby. It's the day after Thanksgiving and she's desperate to leave, anxious to be away from the invasive attention and criticism. She hugs them back, implores them to let her go and then, just as she's about to get away, says, "Maybe I'll make it back for Christmas."

When she says it, you don't doubt she means it, and yet it's a statement that's hysterically at odds with the desire she expresses, even before she arrives at her parents' house, to be done with the visit and the bickering and the tension of familial obligation. As a statement, it's just sits there (brilliant!), a perfect encapsulation of the push and pull of love and frustration, of devotion to family and the pain of having to perform a version of yourself that leaves so much hidden and so much unknown to those who imagine they know you best.

I was thinking about this line from Home for the Holidays, as I walked out of one of my classrooms for the last time today. My students this semester are really quite impressive. (Or at least the ones that bother to show up impress me a lot.) I've taught my heart out for them, and today they rewarded me by applauding when the class was over, hanging around to tell me that they learned from me and that they liked my section. I grinned at them and felt a little shy and told them how nice it was to hear. I watched them go fondly.

Which was confusing, because I've spent the better part of the last month whining in a most unattractive way about how just plain DONE I am with the whole TA gig. It's tiring and repetitive (I teach the same class four times each week) and my obligation to the professor of the course stifles any and all creativity I might have with the material. The whinier I feel, the whinier my students seem and, let's face it, none of us want to be in the classroom any longer. We're ready for the summer. It's all a pain in the ass, now.

So imagine my surprise when, finally—FINALLY!—I was finished with teaching this particular class for the semester and instead of running out of the classroom I stood around to consult with my students, try not to blush at their compliments, and said, "I'm sure I'll see you around!" and "Let me know how things are going for you!" They just fell out of my mouth, these tiny little promises of a future, a continuation of a class beyond the boundaries I've been utterly devoted to since the moment the class begun. I knew it would never happen, I didn't even want it to happen, but I said those things anyway. They just floated there, perfect encapsulations of my love for teaching those students and my exasperation with the classroom.

I've been thinking about a blog post about the difficulties of teaching as a TA and the rewards of teaching in general. I've not written one because I all too often feel caught in a perfect storm of frustration and passion, excitement and dread. I never want to go to class and I'm always content while I'm there. I never know what the hell to do with them in class and yet am almost always pleased with the way it goes. I'm starting to feel like I'm born to teaching in a way that is similar (though not as intense) to the way we're all born to families that ask impossible things and disregard more than they know. I'm starting to think that this push and pull between the desire to teach and the desire to stay quietly with my books is going to define my life. I'm always going to be glad to leave that classroom on the last day, I think, but I'm also going to be wistful that I have to go.

*This movie is one that I adore and admire so completely that I will never be able to talk about it in just one post. It is destined to come up again and again. Deal with it.


Blogger Puzzled said...

What a great moment, and so beautifully conveyed. I think the sentiments you expressed were important for your students to hear.

What you taught them will no doubt have a lasting influence, and it's important to acknowledge the connection, whether or not you ever see them, or their accomplishments, again.

Well done!

8:35 PM  
Blogger New Kid on the Hallway said...

"I never want to go to class and I'm always content while I'm there."

Oh, man, this so sums up my feelings about it!

9:02 AM  
Blogger wwwmama said...

Well said! I think this is not only how I feel about teaching, but about writing. I resist it so much, but then when I'm doing it, I resent any distractions that try to pull me away from it because I'm fully absorbed by it.

5:18 AM  

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