In one sense, the answer is a definite 10-4, good buddy. We started BloggEd one year ago, and for that year it has concentrated the collective mind wonderfully, both prompting and providing a forum for thoughts on all things higher ed. But posts have noticeably slowed, suggesting that we have pretty much said our piece on the subject. If you want to hear our thoughts on other subjects, I’ve migrated my random thoughts on this and that over to benyagoda.com; Maria is blogging about makeup; and Lizy has a major Facebook presence. As for Gigi, you’ll probably have to knock on her office door.
In any case, thank you very much for listening and for your comments.
In the other sense, the answer is harder to supply. The other sense is really retiring, as in from my job as a professor of English at the University of Delaware. Just so you know where I’m coming from, I am 56 years old (“at the moment,” as John Travolta so memorably put it in “Saturday Night Fever”), and I just completed my eighteenth year on the job. This idea has actually been brewing for some time, as I know from a piece of legal notepad paper I have tacked up on my office bulletin board. I must have written it in 2005, because I have scrawled a year-by-year schedule of when I will be teaching, take sabbatical, take retirement sabbatical, and then take me leave, which I wrote down as, um, now.
When I mention this idea to Gigi and selected friends and colleagues, they usually say something along the lines of, “Why would you do something so dumb? This is a job that pays you well, that you basically believe in and enjoy, with colleagues that you like and institutional support (from paper clips to computer assistance to a nice title to a library and gym), that does not—to put it mildly—make excessive demands on your time. Huh?”
Part of the answer is suggested by the aforementioned “retirement leave.” The U of Delaware offers retiring faculty, if not a golden handshake, then certainly a silver one, including a semester off with pay in one’s last year. Plus full health and other benefits after retirement and a cash payment (2.5 percent of annual salary times the number of years in service). In general, the financial side of such a decision is akin to the old joke about the two school teachers in Minsk (or is it Pinsk).
First school teacher: “If I were as rich as Rothschild, I would be richer than Rothschild.”
Second teacher: “Why is that?”
First teacher: “I’d have my teacher’s salary on the side.”
In my case, I would be losing my teacher’s salary, but I would have my income from writing (which I was doing full time when I started this job), plus the savings that U. of Delaware thankfully encouraged me to accumulate, etc., plus Social Security when and if it comes, etc., plus my wife’s salary (her planned retirement date is never–does never work for you?), etc., plus the envisioned end of mortgage and college tuition payments, etc., etc., etc.
But money’s only one factor here. Coming back from sabbatical this past spring semester, I had one of my worst experiences in the classroom. It was a perfect storm. It was the Introduction to Newswriting class, always one of the most challenging; the first two sessions were cancelled due to snow, which put us behind from the start. The class met at late afternoon, it was black as night outside in February, and the energy level from students was zero or less. They didn’t talk and more of them than ever before brought and stared into laptops. I was a little off my game, maybe in part because the well-publicized troubles of the journalism business have made me question the value of the inverted pyramid and other verities presumed to be eternal.
Whatever the reason, I developed and then couldn’t shake the feeling that I was teaching a remedial class. I would throw out a concept or a current-events happening that I would have thought would be familiar to most or all. No reaction. I would carefully and slowly explain it. Then if the concept—libel, say, or news aggegator—came up again later in the class or in a subsequent one, I would ask if anyone could define it. If I was lucky, one student would do so. Then I would say, “Gooooooood.”
Simply put, it was not the way I would choose to spend my time in the best of all possible worlds. Hippocratically, I was doing no harm—but I didn’t feel like I was doing much good, either. It was not horrible; I am not bemoaning my fate. It was just not the way I would choose to spend my time. Throw in correcting papers and going to faculty meetings. And, I began to think, if I had the option to spend my time differently—to devote it all to writing, traveling, seeing friends, pursuing interests of all different kinds—why shouldn’t I?
Then summer came. I had a great experience teaching a study-abroad program in Italy—it was good academically, but kind of amazing in the way spending a month in the town of Cortona seemed to be a transformational experience for the students (“transformational” being a buzz word for our provost, which I had never thought much about before). I also reflected on a great group of journalism students who graduated in May. Four in particular: the most talented creative non-fiction writer I’ve had the pleasure of teaching, whose memoir I am hugely looking forward to reading; someone who blossomed from a shy young woman to a hard-driving reporter, and has been hired by a mid-sized daily in this “dying” industry; another greatly talented young woman who’s taking on Manhattan and snagged a job with one of the top magazines in the country; and a fourth person who has combines first-rate writing and reporting ability with an inquisitive and searching mind, and is starting out on the bottom rung (soon to climb up) in the blogosphere.
As the memory of that terrible spring class recedes, I think more about the gratification and inspiration I got from working with that group. And maybe it’s Charlie Brown and the football, but I have also been thinking of ways I can improve that Intro to Newswriting class. Plus, I miss my colleagues.
So I am re-upping. For now.