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Writing Across the Curriculum

 

Holloway Hall

You Knew the Jog Was Dangerous When You Took It
Darrell Newton
Communications

Again, I had to remind myself: in this business we call academe, there is no finish line. However, it didn’t help to hear those words echoing in my head. I was so tired that I couldn’t see straight. My head pounded like a jackhammer, and my mouth tasted like month-old toast. Yet that chapter had to be re-written, the journal piece had to be proofed, and the review of that dreadful book had to be finessed – all by tomorrow night. All the coffee shop chatter in the world that takes place between starry-eyed grad students couldn’t prepare any of us for the ultimate challenge – our own, self-imposed, workload as faculty members. We’ve learned that getting a Ph.D. isn’t really a terminal circumstance. It starts us down a long road of challenges that are too numerous, and varied, to categorize. However, this is exactly why we do what we do. It’s why we brave the gauntlet of student evaluations, grade truly dismal papers, and maintain ghost ship office hours. We do it because we are academics, despite the occasional desires to run screaming into the night.

I am reminded of a cartoon show, in which a plucky, mild-mannered chicken, sought to rid his city’s streets of evil doers. To do this, Henry Cabot Henhouse III drank his super sauce, and grabbed his trusty sidekick, Fred – a large lion, with a lisp. Together, Super Chicken and his companion would burst through the walls of many a hideout, in an effort to get that week’s dastardly Dan, or dame. Our hero would then leap from the rubble unscathed, leaving poor Fred horribly mangled. When asked if he was okay, Fred would likely respond, “well, not really, and I haven’t been since my third broken arm.” Our hero would then firmly remind him, “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.” Did he really? Did we?

I often think not, particularly since we assumed that after that miracle called tenure, things would become, well, simpler. We would teach our chosen courses, give our papers at only the best conferences, and maybe become department chair someday. However, that’s the danger, Fred: assuming we can rest on worn-out laurels, and not continue to improve our intellectual and pedagogical skills. There are still many books to be reviewed, hundreds of papers to be graded, articles to be re-written, and so much more.

However, if we take a moment to look deep within our viscera, didn’t we choose this profession for a sense of satisfaction? Aren’t we doing this to assist students and inform our colleagues? Isn’t this all about, dare I say, making a difference? To go where no one has before? Well, maybe not that far; but at least far enough to see our book displayed prominently at the library, or the Dean’s Office. Well, if we did do this academic thing for those reasons, guess what? We still have so much more to do.

Education is never stagnant, and one never learns it all. But, who would want to? I can still remember that dusky, mildew smell from the library stacks at my beloved grad library in Wisconsin where I strained my eyes under dim florescent lights to find another book to make my paper stronger. The excitement of giving that same paper during colloquium, or an improved version at a conference surrounded by peers, made all the headaches worthwhile. Remember that since of satisfaction when the applause at the end of your presentation went on just a bit longer than normal? When you had all the answers to each and every question asked after? Why should we ever lose that zeal?

As I return to my stack of papers, books, and other course-related paraphernalia, I find myself eking a small, twisted smile, and I sigh. You and I must remember dear colleague: there is no finish line. Would we ever want one?
 

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