This week has been a rough one on my campus, and in my department specifically. But last night I went to a dinner for a department student organization, and today I went to another event on campus that wasn't just students, but where I got to reconnect with some students from years gone by, and you know what? As much as I care about research, which I do, I don't care so much about even it, or being a colleague in my department, or being a "professor" in the abstract. "Being a professor," at the end of the day, doesn't mean shit to me, not now, even though I once thought it did. What I care about - what I really and truly care about - is my students and what they've learned and how funny and smart and thoughtful and sensitive they are and the relationships that I've formed with them.
In what is a really hard time on levels both personal and logistical, it's my students who've kept me going and who have been a reminder that there is joy. And sure, students can be frustrating. They don't do what you want them to do. They make mistakes when you know that they know better. They produce things that you have to grade, and sometimes what they produce is torture to get through. But. At that event today, while I chatted with a few colleagues briefly, I spent nearly all of my time talking to students. And while I felt like maybe that wasn't what I was "supposed" to be doing, it did feel right to me - on the inside - that this was what I did, in a whole lot of ways.
So tonight I'm feeling a bit sad, and a bit wistful, and a bit ... well... verklempt. But when I think about the past couple of days, the bright spots all involve the conversations that I've had with my students. Those have been the real interactions that I've had over the past couple of days, and those are the interactions that I most value.
At the end of the day, while I'm good at "being a professor" and it's a job I like, I do think I could do other jobs and like them. But if I did do another job, it's my students that I'd miss, and that would be what I would lose in doing another job. I'd miss knowing other people in the way that I get to know them, and I'd miss having other people know me in the way that they know me. It's weird: my students in some ways know me on the inside in ways that even my closest friends and family do not.
And, you know, it's funny. Today was a day of celebrating a colleague who left this world too soon and who was, as a student said, the heart and soul of this campus. And I am so, so sad. But this colleague, perhaps more than any colleague I've got, would have understood why I mostly ignored colleagues and faculty and staff and everybody else in favor of students. And I think he would have approved.
2 years ago