Monday, August 26, 2013

"I'd rather leave while I'm in love"

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.


  1. Dear Claudia, I feel the same way about so many things you said above (although I could NEVER teach philosophy and my tentative plans to phase into retirement and do other things are rather stagnant right now). I do the same thing on the first day of Children's Lit., which I get to teach every fall. The students mentioned a great variety of books last week on my class's 1st day. My other most clever feat so far this fall is teaching a recent picture book that I greatly admire in 3 of my 4 classes. I read "Which Side Are You On?" by George Ella Lyon and Christopher Cardinale on the first day of children's lit. class because we have to start classes on Labor Day and it's about unions, etc. My freshman comp. classes will study it, too, because we are focusing on Appalachia and community leaders/social justice, etc. (the song was written by a miner's wife in KY). I hope you do love every minute of this year and I'll try to do the same.

  2. Tina, I love your starting on Labor Day with such a perfect labor movement text that works so well in both your classes and has the regional tie-in, as well. Here's to having both of us love every minute of this year!

  3. Will you still be at Hollins after retiring from Colorado? I've been looking into this program more and would love to hear your thoughts on it. (I've met you at WIFYR a few times.)

  4. Thanks for asking, Kim. I'll be teaching at Hollins summer of 2014. I don't know now what will happen after that. I do think the Hollins program is terrific, as is the Vermont College program. The time I spent at Hollins a few years ago was paradise.