Invest in the Millennium

Teaching is a lot of things.

It is frustrating, exhausting, challenging, time-consuming.

But it is also rewarding, joyful, invigorating.

I called my dad last week to ask about car things. He asked how grad school was going, if I liked teaching or taking classes more. I said teaching. Then he asked which one I had been more nervous about before the semester started. I said teaching.

He was pleased to hear that teaching has turned into something I enjoy. So am I.

When my classmates and I talk about teaching, it’s a lot of complaining about students who don’t listen or turn in assignments on time or come to class or read their emails.

But on Friday, I got to witness a light bulb moment. One student came to class frustrated with the task of choosing a topic for the upcoming research paper. Then halfway through class it clicked. And it was beyond words to see that look of accomplishment come over the student’s face. The joy I felt watching a student move from confusion to clarity doesn’t compute.

Teaching doesn’t compute. It is work and struggle and frustration, but it’s all worth it for that split moment of understanding.

This weekend I read Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” out loud to myself and cried. With the election coming up and shootings and terror across the globe, hope seems hard to find. It is tempting to curl into myself and hold out for brighter days. But brighter days will not come if we do not work for them.

Berry writes:

Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

My work in this season of life is to invest in the millennium by teaching composition to twenty students in northern Michigan. It doesn’t compute. There are days—so many—when it seems futile. I can’t imagine how any of this could really make a difference. The students don’t believe that writing is world changing, but I do. Maybe I won’t see the impacts of my work here. But so it is with sequoias. It doesn’t compute and that’s the point.

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