Monday, October 08, 2007

The Dream and the Job

In the dream last night I was at some kind of Protestant Christian youth camp, headed by the stereotypical big, extroverted, 30-something youth minister.

A teenaged girl was supposed to be baptized, but the minister had to leave suddenly, so he asked me to baptize her. His request presented two problems:

1. I did not know how this denomination performed the ceremony. 2. Would a baptism by Pagan me be valid anyway?

I shoved issue #2 aside while searching for the book—a sort of combination prayer book and textbook—that would tell me how to perform it. I remember looking up "baptism" in the index: there were multiple page references.

As dreams do, this one trailed off with no clear resolution. The girl was not feeling well and wanted to postpone the baptism—or something.

The deam revealed its meaning, I think, in one detail: my English department colleague J. was in the dream. He was one of the camp counselors. He did not play a part in the dream-plot, but I saw him waiting in line at the camp dining hall.

The dream is not about religion but about my teaching career, which will end (at least for now) when my resignation takes effect at the end of spring semester.

J. is one of the younger professors. He and I have talked about his taking over some of my minor administrative chores and also my office, which is nicer than his (windows!) and more convenient to the classrooms that we both use. In that sense, perhaps, he is "waiting in line."

J. is a strong classroom teacher. A former Marine, he sometimes impersonates his drill instructors in the first-year composition classroom, but in a light-hearted way that the students appreciate. (I don't know that he does it in his critical-theory classes, but maybe I should eavesdrop more.)

As for me, I need to look up whether "burnout" is one word or two. The zest is gone, although I am still looking forward to the spring nature-writing class. Right now, I have a folder full of essays from my creative-nonfiction class to critique. Those students all have some writing talent and their pieces are interesting to read , but I have to flog myself into actually writing the comments on them that they expect. On some level, I am not a "believer" anymore.

Ironically, I am probably looser and more at ease in class now than I ever was, knowing that I have the freedom of the short-timer. Maybe I learned something about how to teach writing in the last fifteen years. But now my time for research and writing is worth more to me than it was fifteen years ago.

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Anonymous Anne Hill said...

Baptism sounds like the perfect antidote to burnout. Also, I wonder whether the girl is fifteen years old, just like my job. And what do I not believe in anymore? Institutionalized learning? Whether teaching can reach people (youth in particular)?

Just curious. Thanks for sharing.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

Was the girl 15 years old? I can't say. But I think you are right about the "I don't believe" part, whether it is that I don't believe in myself as a teacher (did I ever?) or just don't believe that I should stay at the university.

Thanks for your insights.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Oh, Chas! This sounds painful--leaving your job, burning out on teaching... Do you know what comes next, or is it a leap into the void?

Though, as one mid-life career-changer to (I take it) another, scarey as it has been to leave my life as a therapist behind me, it has also been a good move. I can't help but shiver at your description of you lack of eagerness about the next batch of student papers waiting for you--as mine are waiting for me, still parked in the box in the trunk of my car, waiting for Saturday morning (if I'm disciplined--or Sunday night if I'm not).

But accepting change has been good for me. Here's hoping it will be good for you, too.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Yvonne said...

Whatever the new career turns out to be, I am excited for you :)

3:14 AM  

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