Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Nostalgic Return of Teaching Guy

                      Sculpture Arch, near Dyer Hall, UC

Dear George,


Recently I went for my annual vision checkup at Dr. Werner’s office near the southwest corner of UC’s campus.  Dr. Werner said my eyes looked o.k. and I should come back next year.  They gave me a pair of cardboard dark glasses for my dilated pupils, and I headed back for my Crosley Tower office at the opposite end of the campus.


On the way I stopped by the Psychology Department in Dyer Hall to check my mail.  As I chatted with the secretary, my long-time friend and colleague Kathy Burlew came out to say hello.  For many years Kathy and I were next door office neighbors and one another’s #1 gossip sources (though neither of us hardly ever had any).  She asked how retirement was going, and I said it was o.k., but my opinion is that working is better.  I said I’d liked my job, liked the people I worked with, and I missed all of that.  Kathy was sympathetic.  I had to go and said we should get together soon.


As I left Dyer Hall, I realized that it was 9:50 a.m., the exact time on a Monday morning when I would be leaving Dyer to go and teach my 10 a.m. Social Psychology class in Rieveschl.  Just outside of the building there is a brightly-colored modernistic sculpture which bridges the sidewalk and which pedestrians pass under.  I had walked through it on my way to teach every Monday-Wednesday-Friday morning for a decade.  To boost my confidence, I would always imagine that the colorful passageway gave off magical vibes, and, by walking under it, I would be transformed from a quiet restrained person to “Teaching Guy” – secure, full of confidence, extroverted.  This mental ritual always gave me a little boost, and I wondered if the archway still had its special powers.  


The sidewalks were crowded with students changing classrooms, and they looked sort of somber as they’ve usually looked to me on past Monday mornings.  Last year I would keep an eye out for students I might have in class, but now I felt anonymous and felt good about being unrecognizable.  I crossed the green space behind McMicken Hall and turned into the Engineering Quadrangle.  At about this time in the Autumn quarter I would be giving a lecture on Stanley Milgram’s research on obedience to authority.  It’s one of my favorite topics and always generated more student interest than anything else I might talk about.  While classroom teaching almost always made me anxious, I was entirely relaxed about doing Milgram, and I looked forward to that particular class session.  After all those years of preparation and practice, it was hard to accept that I won’t be telling students about destructive obedience any more, and I felt a fleeting twinge of regret that I wasn’t doing that this morning.


I followed the steps down to the fifth floor of Rieveschl Hall.  Everything looked familiar.  I treated myself to a package of Zingers from the vending machine.   There’d been some renovation of the seating area, and the corridor into Rieveschl was under construction.  Things weren’t exactly the same as they’d always been.  My big social psychology class had been in Room 502 Rieveschl for many years, a lecture hall with stadium seating accommodating about 170 students.  On this particular Monday the 10:00 class had just started.  I couldn’t see the teacher at the front of the room as I walked past, but the students were all facing him or her and displaying varying degrees of attentiveness.  The room was about two-thirds filled.  The students looked just like my students had always looked.  Had I not known better, it could just as well have been one of my classes.  I was glad that I wasn’t in there, but, at the same time, I was depressed to be on the outside looking in.


I viewed the whole scene with some nostalgia.  Being a faculty member had taken up the biggest part of my adult life.  With retirement, those activities have simply disappeared.  If you asked me a year ago who I am, I would have said “a social psychologist” or a “UC professor”.  Now the best I can say is that I used to be those things.  “A retired college professor” somehow doesn’t cut the cake, phrased as it is in terms of who I no longer am. 


The secret of retirement, as far as I can tell, consists in remaking one’s life so that one has a new identity and a meaningful array of activities.  I’ve made some beginning steps in that but haven’t really solved it yet.  Retirement has its obvious perqs, including freedom and leisure time.  However, a lot of that freedom is really a matter of loss, and, until one figures out how to fill the empty time in, it’s not as liberating as one might think.  Maybe I should walk through that Magic Arch in the opposite direction and see what it does for me a second time around.



G-Mail Comments:

-Jennifer M (11-22):  :-)

-Ami G (11-22): This is another great one, David!  Reinventing oneself is a difficult full time job.  It seems to involve all the stressors and pangs as actually having a job.  However, I'm convinced that we'll figure it out!  Until we do, keep writing.  Love.  Ami

-JML (11-22):  Hey Dad, Nice post.  I went to a Saints party today and ran into an older friend who retired from teaching 8th graders 4 years ago due to Katrina.  Turns out,  she went back to teaching and is now a "religion" instructor for 5th graders.  She has no formal training in this other than her Catholic pedigree and her desire as a 13 year old to one day be a nun. Anyway, she's loving it, says the kids keep her from getting old,  and they love her because she's the only teacher at this school who doesn't use a paddle or ruler to enforce discipline.  Anyway, just thought i'd share. Looking forward to your visit this December.  ~ J

-Gayle L (11-22): Dear David, Your teaching stories are wonderful. You mention being only a college professor. Not ... In my eyes Professors were looked up to and always treated with respect. Retired or not. If you were going to enlighten someone regarding their future retirement what would you tell them. I believe you would tell them to live life to the fullest follow your dreams and ha ve no fear. I think and this is only my opinion, but U should follow those rules a little. U worked hard all of those years. I. Bet You made quite an impression on many students. U deserve to live a lot now. Life is too short;). You know. Also. I. Love to read your stories. Its like peter's pictures except with words. Please keep writing. ;_ give my love ;)   G

1 comment:

  1. I suggest: "I am an internet diarist of surpassing wit and charm."