Riding the Academic Wave

by: Carol Hurney

I had a wonderful opportunity the other day to spend time talking about teaching with a kindred soul. We began our conversation getting to know each other – mostly I was interested in hearing about his 38-year teaching career at JMU. In particular, I wanted to know how this professor had fed his passion for teaching over the years and how he reacted to changes in the academy. His answers to these questions prompted both of us to spend the next hour or so reflecting on both of our teaching careers. What I soon realized was that although we taught in very different disciplines – biology and business – our careers and approaches to teaching had more in common than you might expect. Over the next few Blog posts, I will provide glimpses into his career and mine. More importantly, I hope to reveal some of the essential landmarks we each encountered on our separate journeys. Landmarks that continue to fuel our passion and marvel for the art of teaching and learning.

Let’s begin at the heart of the matter. It was clear after sharing stories about our classes and students that we really love teaching. We think that being a professor is the best career. We thrive with the freedoms, opportunities, and prospects we have as faculty even though navigating and selecting the right avenues to explore is a challenge. Early in our careers, summer teaching opportunities appealed to us financially and philosophically. Since we both love being in the classroom, summer teaching gave us more time with students, more conversations about our disciplines. At first summer teaching was a good thing. However, after spending a few years ramping up our energy to teach through the summer, we ultimately realized that summer teaching took too much out of us and left us unprepared emotionally and intellectually for the fall semester. Summer teaching may work for some faculty, but we both laughed heartily when I suggested that when I was teaching summer courses, I had no energy left to ride the big wave of excitement in the fall semester. And he wholeheartedly agreed – being a professor during the fall semester is the BEST!!! And we secretly long for it. From our vantage point teaching during the rest of the year pales in comparison to riding the big wave that hits the campus every fall. Oh yes, we also enjoy riding the spring semester wave and relish the quiet times paddling around in between semesters. But there is something special about the ebbs and flows of academic life that has helped keep both of our passions for teaching ready for the next wave of students, topics, assignments, and other surprises that we encounter in the ever-changing ocean of higher education that we live, teach, and thrive in. So, as we ease into the lull of the holiday season, we are both secretly refueling and dreaming of dusting off our textbooks and syllabi, ready to jump on to the spring semester wave with new faces, challenges, and unexpected side trips. Unexpected side trips?? More on that in my next post… Have a restful holiday. Jingle, Jingle

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