As I pondered weak and weary over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore (well, AHA writing about “professionalization” actually), I thought, perhaps I chose unwisely my lifestyle and future long-term career. You see, in the hard sciences, particularly mathematics, there are right and wrong answers, it’s not semantics. You either solved the problem or you didn’t. Yes, they require imagination, but yet, there is an internal logic to the system that creates comforting certainty. Certainty for sure.
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, that I sat in classrooms in dark Eugene on the fourth floor. Here I learned about the many varieties of mathematic expression and tips on coaching young students to calculate progressions. My dad, a high school teacher of chemistry and physics had apparently deposited some semblance of a desire to teach within my soul.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain thrilled me – filled me with the prospect never felt before; perhaps I should be a teacher. A teacher, not an astronaut as I had previously envisioned. But this would take years of schooling, researching things that others consider a bore.
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, I decided to emulate my father and learn the teaching craft of yore. Of course this process had many bumps along the way and redirected me toward the histories of Asia, the U.S., cultural development, and more. I loved the classes and people until that day… That day my first student asked me “what are we learning this for?” Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming, how to answer the question “what are we learning this for?” Was this student asking this question in class to address some grievance, perhaps from all the homework dealt out to her before? I turned for a second to face what was written on the board.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning, soon again I heard a tapping, a foot upon the floor. My students were impatient while I searched for a response that would satisfy their educational needs galore. Then the student added, “I’m never going to need this, when I graduate, I am going to work in my mother’s store.”
Much I marveled this ungainly foul (fowl) to hear discourse so plainly, though my answer little meaning – little relevancy bore. “We can examine the past to learn to reason, see new connections, understand power structures, and maybe even find out what human beings were put here for.” “So what” said the student “learning something about the Mongols or whoever isn’t important anymore.”
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken, “doubtless,” said I, as I wondered what this student’s future had in store. After class had ended with evil portended intended, I returned to my cramped cubicle-cum-office to stare upon the floor. Should I have been a math teacher with symbols, right or wrong answers, and nothing more? If I can’t impart value and aid in the future of society, what am I teaching for?
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing to this confidence crushing question now burning into my bosom’s core. This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining on the broken patent leather office furniture with the lamp-light gloating o’er. You shall impart meaning nevermore.
And this statement, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting, round the small room number placard and course listings adjacent my office door. And its biting piercing query creates a shadow of a career path made more demining by the insecurity of adjunct hiring outside the union’s moor. And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted – nevermore!