1988. I’m a graduate assistant, teaching my first class at California State University, Chico, and I’m petrified. I wait out in the hallway as the students file into the classroom, afraid to look them in the eye. Then when class is about to begin, I go in, sit down at the desk in the front, look at my papers and refuse to look at my students. I’m scared to death. The lecture I have taken 2 weeks to prepare and is supposed to last an hour and twenty minutes actually ends up lasting fifteen minutes. I ad lib after that as long as I can, then dismiss them.
I should have decided then and there that teaching wasn’t for me, but it was like a bullfighter falling in love with the ring. As the semester wore on, I fell in love with it. And even when I got a editorial gig at Pacific Press, something I had been wanting my whole life, I kept thinking how much I enjoyed teaching a college class. After ten years of being a Pacific Press editor, I got a chance to become a full-fledged professor in Texas, and I jumped at the chance.
Now, today, I am looking at the classroom for the very last time. It’s time to retire. I’ve spent 23 years teaching students and loving every minute of it. Well, to be perfectly honest, I can’t say I loved EVERY minute of it. There were times when I thought I would rather stay home and watch TV. But for the most part, it was the best job I ever had. I took a cut in pay to come to Texas, and when I compare notes, I find that many of my colleagues did too.
One doesn’t teach to become rich, unless you’re talking about the richness of memories, of knowing that you are affecting other people’s lives, of being creative in ways that many other jobs won’t let you, of having fun and getting paid for it. One teaches because you are called to do it, and when you leave, it’s like leaving home.
Now I’m looking at an empty classroom, and wondering what the rest of my life will look like. That is, without students.
Maybe a little less rich.