And just like that, the classrooms are empty again. The cycle of academia continues. I taught roughly 135 students this year, each with their own attitudes, experiences, perspectives, and ideas about writing. Each with their own dreams, their own struggles.
I read roughly 470 essays this year, many more than once. That is about 1,872 pages of student writing. We read, discussed, hypothesized, debated, analyzed, revised, and questioned together. And wrote...and learned about the world: about Columbus Day, lucid dreaming, individualism, diet soda, rap music, consumerism, gender, giraffes, hipsters, race, globalization, class. The list of my students’ curiosities is long, stretched over those 470 essays and 1,872 pages. They tried, over and over, to make sense of their world, and their place within it, on paper.
Not surprisingly, I sometimes forget that these desks hold human beings. But when they’re empty, the loneliness inches in. There is a loneliness, I think, only educators can attest to once our students leave us: a certain type of loneliness wrapped in relief (finally! we’re done!) and awe (wow! look at what we did together!).
I cope with the loneliness--temporary, thank goodness, because I crave our discussions--looking ahead, planning and refining for the next batch of desks. As I reflect on yet another cycle gone, I wonder if we accomplished anything in our time together. I wonder what my students will carry with them. I wonder if I make a difference in their lives.
Yesterday a student came into my office to chat. After some small talk, it was clear he wasn’t there to talk writing. I inquired why he came.
“Well, I guess I came to say goodbye.”
But it’s just writing, right? It’s just a freshman composition course, right?