Last week was my first of the new semester. We did the usual getting-to-know-each-other exercises, which in my undergraduate classes involves having my students get into pairs, "interview" each other according to a few questions I've typed up, and then introduce their partner to the rest of the class.
One of the questions asks what the interviewee would like to be doing ten years from now. There are always a range of answers, including the jokey, the fanciful, and the bizarrely self-effacing, but I was struck, as I so often am, by the number of students who identify "college professor" or "teaching college" as their goal.
I wonder what to ascribe this ambition to. It's almost never a realistic one: the people in question are often among my more participatory and cheerful students, but they're rarely my smartest or even my most diligent. Much of it, I'm sure, is that my students simply don't have any idea what college professors do outside of the classroom, or what the training for such a career involves; they probably realize that it takes a lot of time and schooling to get a Ph.D., but without any sense that the work is meaningfully different in kind from the work they're doing now.
And I wonder, too, whether this is a function of (lack of) cultural capital. At the big urban institution at which I was a lecturer, I also had quite a lot of students expressing a desire to teach college. I didn't teach enough students at Instant Name Recognition U to notice or remember whether the same was true there--but my hunch is that it would not be.
Partly, I think students at INRU imagine a wider number of possible careers than my students here do. They may not be any more realistic about their abilities, but they're probably less likely to see "teacher" (of any description) as the default path for an English major. I also suspect that more students at a school like INRU have some sense of what academia involves, and that might make them less likely to blithely announce it as a career path. And even those who don't have a clue about academia--well, I was one of those students, but I was so awed by so much of my college experience that being a professor seemed like an entirely different order of existence.
It isn't, of course, and academia would be the better if more talented graduates from schools like RU were in it. But sometimes the disjunction between my students' apparent conception of my job, and the reality, is startling.