I'm on a much-needed fall break out here (only two days off, but my teaching schedule makes it a sweet six-day weekend), catching up on some reading, some grading, and some essential relaxation. But as I'm doing all those things I've also been mulling over an experience I've been having these past few weeks with an erratic intensity.
Because despite the various problem students I've been highlighting on this blog, and despite the fact that I am (I admit) a relatively impatient person prone to fits of vexation over the littlest things, what I've been noticing is the irrational love that I feel for my students at odd moments--and not only the smartest, most talented, or most personable among them. I'll be administering a quiz, taking those 10 minutes to figure out what the hell I should do for the rest of the period, and I'll look out across their bowed and earnest (or frustrated and confused) heads, and I'll be overcome by an irrational wave of love for them both individually and collectively--even, briefly, for the whiners and the fuck-ups.
I felt this way about my first class of INRU freshmen, but that was more explicable. It was the first class I'd ever designed and taught entirely by myself, and I was in love, partly, with my own creation. I also had a truly awesome collection of students--and those students were, after all, first-semester INRU freshmen. I'd been an INRU freshman myself only 11 years earlier, and much of my overwhelming feeling of love for them was bound up in my recognition of myself in them and my complicated, tortured, but still-enduring love for my alma mater. I felt excited for them and protective of them, and I felt that I got them, and I know that they enjoyed the fact that I could relate to them as a (relatively) recent alumna, advise them, and make the occasional institutionally-chauvinistic joke.
But my students at Regional U are not very much like me. They're from a part of the country that's culturally different from most places I've lived, and although most of them are "traditional" students--in the sense that they're in their early 20s and live on campus--there's a sizable minority of commuters, or transfer students, or significantly older students. I would guess that the majority of our students are first-generation college students and I know that most grew up in communities no more than a couple of hours away. They'll probably stay in this state, and possibly even this part of this state, for most of their lives. They may have high ambitions, but they are not, in any self-conscious way, "elite."
And I don't know exactly what it is that I love about them. I love that they're from farms, or that they're single mothers, or in ROTC. I love that they have brothers and sisters and cousins nearby. I love that they're in college. I love that they came to RU because of the creative writing program or the dance program. I love that they're so hard-working and that they'll be better thinkers and writers when they come out. I love their promise and their hopefulness.
That kid who swung by my office hours just to tell me how crazy it is that the Wife of Bath is just like his girlfriend (and they even have the same astrological sign)? Love him. The student who shyly told me that she liked Henry V so much that she was going to write a paper for her Poli Sci class on the play? Love her. The fact that my freshmen, when told to come up with their own topics for an op-ed style paper, wrote essays investigating local industrial pollution, Indian land claims, and campus sexual harrassment policies? Love that.
I love the fact that they're so different from the people I knew in college, and yet so much the same. I love that they allow me to see more of what it is to be a college student in America, and what it is to be a professor.