MY FINAL YEAR OF TEACHING
This final year of teaching before retirement from Swarthmore College has been more arduous than any in my years of teaching career. I am finding it harder than my first year of teaching back in 1963-64 when I started at the Rhode Island School of Design.
I wonder why. In some ways it should be the easiest. Over the years I learned to teach better; and at times I feel it is a pity that when I have finally achieved the level of ease and comfort, not to speak of the quality of the goods I am delivering that I can be proud of, I have to quit. But for this year, I worry about my work in the classroom more than ever; I have been burning more midnight oil than before, and have been uncharacteristically more anxious walking into the classroom. All this in spite of the fact that I have been relieved of all committee work this year.
The burden of teaching the very last year is perhaps largely psychological. Having the last work day set in stone is different from having a more or less indefinite number of years ahead. It is like counting nights before Christmas. It instills a sense of anticipation to reach the goal, and one frets to get there. Weeks have been moving on very slowly.
But it is not just an anxiety to reach the end. I feel heavily a pressure to do well. When I realized that this is the last year and there is no another year to rework the courses, I shuddered. I know that I will be judged after my departure by my latest performance. If I did anything less than good, all my work from the previous years will forever be tarnished. So, I worry and have been working harder than ever. But I always worked hard. Working hard was never a hardship for me; it was always a gratifying effort in my experience. This year it is different. This is vanity; and vanity always adds an unnecessary burden.
The burden of work that weighs heavily is nevertheless real. I feel fatigued. Maybe I am old and tired; but I refuse to believe that. In fact, I only started to feel old two years ago. Once I announced my retirement, I felt relieved and suddenly tired.
In retrospect I wonder if I should have announced my retirement quite so early on. On further self-examination, I am beginning to think that what I first took for fatigue is more like a loss of joy. When the end is in sight, it is harder to push oneself to generate enthusiasm spontaneously. Anxiety and overwork make it harder. So, hard as it is to believe and accept, I am enjoying teaching less than I did before I made my announcement to retire.
But a show of joy and enthusiasm in the classroom is essential to successful teaching. Therefore, I have to pretend; and, naturally, it requires an inordinate effort to appear enthusiastic when one is not actually quite so enthusiastic. This, however, requires a tremendous effort. The effort is wearing me out.
I wonder if emptiness awaits me after the last day. I doubt it. I have a pile of work ahead of me; but, thank goodness, they are for the most part unscheduled.
T. Kaori Kitao, 03.03.01