Thanksgiving Sap

by I.A. Isherwood

In 2007, I walked into a college classroom for the first time as a teacher. I had a master’s degree and very little no formal training. I didn’t know exactly at that time that I would go on to do a PhD or really the direction my life would take. But I did know that I wanted to try teaching because most of the people who really had an impact on me as a human – that deep sort of moral impact – were teachers in one form or another.

It could have been disastrous, but it wasn’t, or at least I don’t think so now in memory (if any of my former students are reading this, please feel free to correct the record in the comments section). What it was, instead, was a chance to do something remarkable: to make some form of a living standing in the front of a classroom and guiding students in a conversation about a work of literature.

I have never forgotten that feeling of optimism, raw hope, and beyond anything else, gratitude at being able to do what I do. In a week where gratitude is literally being served up on the table, an acknowledgment of vocational thankfulness seems appropriate.

So what happened to bring on the sap, you ask, gentle reader? I had fifteen tutorials with my First Year Students in the last three working days. Each student came in armed with an essay, we went over their writing, and then they took their marked essays away for revisions. Tutorials seemed appropriate given the course topic (Lewis and Tolkien) and I wanted to try something new (or old in this case).

I don’t know if they are becoming better writers through this process. It seems like it, but this might be just one of those lies teachers tell themselves sometimes. I do know, for certain, that the exercise appears to have value that goes beyond style, usage, and research methods. Watching them mark their own essays, discuss ways they can improve, and ask me questions on substance as well as points of style, is a demonstrable form of intellectual engagement. I wish I could show this – their sense of engagement and critical awareness – to every silly person who thinks that the humanities or the liberal arts don’t matter. All fifteen of them are researching, writing, critiquing their own work, rewriting, and trying really hard to engage with the material. This is a beautiful thing.

So as we gorge on carbs and turkey, I just wanted to give a shout out to my students (past and present) to say thanks for continuing to make me realize something I knew from the first moment I walked into a classroom – that what we do together has real value – and I am very lucky person to get to do what I do.