I just taught the first class of my first course of my last year of teaching at the University of Colorado.
It was wonderful.
I'm teaching my two most beloved courses this semester: children's literature (in the English department) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (in the Philosophy department). I had to pull a lot of strings and call in a lot of favors to be allowed to teach the children's lit class, as I'm a tenured member of Philosophy, not English, and my Ph.D. is in Philosophy, not English. The first day of the course was as delightful as I hoped it would be. All I really did was call the roll and ask each student to tell me the name of his or her favorite children's book, but as each one gave the answer (Harry Potter book seven, Anne of Green Gables, Amelia Bedelia, The Phantom Tollbooth, Junie B. Jones), the other students gave their sighs of shared appreciation and started to offer their own insights into why they had loved these books so much. Hooray! In less than an hour I'll be launching the Rousseau course, reading the fabulous opening pages of Rousseau's groundbreaking Confessions, the first modern autobiography.
Have I made a mistake in accepting an early retirement offer to focus on my career as a children's book writer?
No. If I continued to teach, I might teach children's literature or Rousseau every other year, but that would leave me plenty of other courses to teach that I love less passionately, and also where I've kept up less assiduously with current scholarship, so that I feel vaguely ashamed of myself as I drag out my old lecture notes from fifteen years ago. And I don't love grading - no professor does. And I don't love academic politics (even though it generates some amazing stories - fodder for a future academic novel some day?).
Most of all, as the Carole Bayer Sager song lyric goes, "I'd rather leave while I'm in love." It's not a bad sign that I'm loving this first day of the semester so much. Better to leave while I can still walk out of class aglow with the connection I think I've made with students. If I miss teaching too much, I can get visiting gigs lots of places. There is no shortage of opportunities once I'm no longer tied down to a full-time job with its heavy commitments of teaching, research, and service. Undeterred by this morning's joy, I'm going to go ahead and sign those bridge-burning retirement papers. Even this morning, I had the great fun of tossing into the recycling bin some of those faded course notes from a decade and a half ago. But between now and the middle of next May I'm going to love every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of teaching with all my heart.
Just as I'm loving this next-to-last first day.