emotional labour · student engagement · teaching

Post-term Tristesse

I’ve just finished my OMG 18th year of teaching at the UofA, and still, at the end of the semseter, I feel an agonizing sense of loss and regret when I walk out of the classroom for the last time.

Loss, because it’s over; regret, because I’m sure I could have taught them just a little more. I can’t help feeling I should have written fuller comments on SB’s map assignment, spent more time in my office, commented on more blogs, sought out PT after class. I should have been less focused on the meeting I had right after class (every class, it seems) and made myself available for … whatever. These students – already no longer “my” students – accomplished amazing things this term. One of them produced a video featuring his own car being broken into and used it as the basis for a critique of the Edmonton Police Crime Map (no white collar crimes reported). RS, who came into the class saying he was heading for Toronto as soon as the term was done, wrote a meditation on the arbors in downtown office buildings: he just sat in the lobbies, he said, until he saw things differently. Another student took on alternative city futures by mapping the Mill Creek Trails, and one woman – a first-year student, if you can believe it – created a two-sided, multi-panel, metre-long found poem on the High Level Bridge. She went on to give a presentation on the city as a Deleuzian assemblage. Smart? Jesus.

Teaching only becomes more poignant over time, as I realize that much of what’s just happened will be forgotten – by them, by me. Their early-term comments are already fading; in six months I’ll remember only half of their names. They head off in all directions, into their lives (wow, to be 21) and I carry on in mine, and we all just take it on faith that what we did, here, together, mattered, even though we can’t know how or why.

One thought on “Post-term Tristesse

  1. Oh, but it does matter, in ways we can't even begin to fathom. I was thinking last night about my first year English instructor whose name I have long forgotten, but whose song lyrics exercise I still use in every first year class I teach. He must have despaired of me – I bombed the mid-session, stared blankly at him in his office the one time I went for help, and skipped an embarrassing number of classes – but his love of poetry is the foundation of my pedagogy and his insistence on the cultural resonance of cultural detail shaped my approach to research.

    Our students are amazing, vibrant people who change us as much as we change them, even if we can't pinpoint the specifics. I share your tristesse (I feel, so often, that I'm just beginning to understand them when they leave), but I feel joy for having been a part of their lives even more.


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