I was just commenting over on Styley Geek's blog about teaching large classes. And I got a bit sad.
Because I really do love teaching. Yes, I love knowing things the students don't know and the "power" that gives me. But I also love seeing their faces as they get something, as the proverbial light bulb goes off. Of course, nothing worse than looking at a sea of confused faces and wondering how else you might get through to them. I get a kick out of getting to know my students, how their minds work and don't work. How they think in a different way than I do. How I can change what I do to make topics clearer. I love it when I've taught a difficult concept but they can take that concept and apply it to another idea. I love when they free their minds enough to become scientists right there in the classroom or the lab. Not something that usually happens in a biology class, sadly.
I also like thinking and talking about teaching, to my friends and the sqvirrel. I like hearing success stories and about absolute failures (the latter is like listening to scary stories, horrifying but you can't quite stop yourself) and about funny things professors and students have done. I even like complaining about those students who sleep or read the newspaper, blatantly. Like we can't see them cos they are in the back of the room?! I once had a friend who was an English professor and we loved comparing notes about how different our teaching was. He always maintained that he could give all his students A's if they got where he wanted them to go, whereas if I gave all A's something.was.really.really.wrong. We never quite figured out what the difference was, but we liked debating and questioning each other.
Although I'm currently on a research-only post-doctoral fellowship, teaching has been an important part of my life for the past oh, seven years or something like that. And so it's hard to let go of it. I'm grieving, I think.
The problem with academia, for me, is (well, there are LOTS of problems but this is one of the most personal problems) that my ideal job no longer exists. A job where the teaching load is not too overwhelming so I can focus and do a good job on the teaching and feel good about it without working my fingers down to the bone. And where they want me to do some research with undergrads but not so much that I have to publish and publish and publish. But this just isn't the case at liberal arts colleges anymore. The interviews I've been on have all stressed that research is becoming more and more important at small schools, from mid-grade to elite. Forget about research 1 schools, I'd rather die! And hearing from friends at small universities and very small colleges, their teaching load is heavy and they are being expected to publish more and more. And really small schools? So much teaching they can barely keep up. All of which is a recipe for disaster for me. I can just see the nervous breakdowns looming in the distance.
I think one of my issues is that I don't want to work ALL THAT hard. Another way to put it is, I want a life, dammit. I want to spend lots of time with the sqvirrel, with the dogs, with the future children. I want to have time to read, to work on the future house, to hike, to go places when I want to. I want to not feel guilty about doing all these things and more. I do not want to feel constantly torn between my career and my life. It's too bad that those aren't the one and the same, as they are for many people. But it ain't happening. And so the time has come, the walrus said, to start bidding good-bye to academia. I won't have a problem saying good-bye to all the politics, the annoying faculty members you have to deal with, seeing all the ridiculous hoops one has to jump through, the (often unspoken or unwritten) expectation that you should work all the time and then some, the rejections and excruciating-to-read reviews. But the teaching. Sigh. That's the tough one.