The Satisfaction of Busting Suds
It's heresy to say this, but teaching isn't really work. It's an activity and it involves effort, to be sure. But it isn't work. That's a term that should be reserved for things that have discernible beginnings and satisfying endings.
Re-shingling a garage roof is work. Cleaning up the kitchen after a meal is work, but teaching? I don't think so. It just never gives you that satisfied sense of having definitively done something and done it well.
I am by reputation and student evaluations a "good teacher," but I never feel that way. And I never get that sense of satisfaction you have when the last dish has been put away and the counter wiped clean. Indeed, I quite like to clean the kitchen, especially when I can let my partner stay at the table talking to friends over a postprandial cup of tea or glass of wine. The bigger and messier the stack of dishes, the better I feel when everything is clean and squared away.
But why can't I ever feel that way about teaching? I suspect it's because the job lacks tangibility. What do you point to when you've taught something? Test scores? Rubrics? Graduation rates? Alumni whose names you often struggle to recall?
Every semester ends the same. I stand alone in a room that has been emptying out one student at a time. They hand in their final set of reflections and leave. Sixteen weeks of work just goes pfffft amid empty desks and uncomfortable chairs. I often think this is what it will be like at the last final of my last class. I will have spent almost 40 years doing something, but there will be no clean counter top or stacked pile of plates to point at with a sense of completion. See what I mean?
It's not really work.