Several years ago, my nephew, then a first-grader, came home from school and told my sister that his class was learning to count backwards. My sister didn’t think anything of this until she discovered that the teacher was doing a countdown to her last day before retirement.
It was pretty funny and pretty awful, but now that I’m in the same situation myself, I must confess to a certain sympathy with that teacher. It’s hard to feel invested in the future of my department when I’m not going to be there to see what happens, especially since a lot of the battles being fought are ones that I’ve fought in the past, cared deeply about, and lost over and over again. Sometimes I feel like I'm just marking time.
It’s a little hard to get excited about my classes this semester—beginning Italian, which I started teaching as a grad student in 1980. I’m even using the same textbook! (A much later and much revised edition, of course.) I’ve heard every excuse for not doing the homework, every reason why the sorority meeting was more important than my class, so could I please tell her what we did?
So I think I’m all blasé and uninterested, but then something happens. A student says something genuinely funny and original in Italian after only eight weeks of study. A light bulb goes off over the head of another student, who has been struggling. A colleague is being mistreated by someone in the administration and asks my advice. A former student emails me that she and some others who were in a small class with me are going out for pizza and they want me to come too because they miss our class. A colleague runs a great idea for a new course by me.
And all of a sudden I care again. So I guess I won't be doing a countdown—not yet, anyway. Check with me in a few months.