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A Clean Slate
April 18, 2013 - 8:10pm

It was that time of the year again, one of my favorites: spring when I get to clean the yard.  I love raking, organizing, and generally cleaning up our relatively large lot, and this year was extra-special because we had a lot of large, dead branches littering the yard.  Or, as my kids like to call them, Angry Bird launchers.


I’ve written before about how much I enjoy certain kinds of yard and house work: painting, washing the bathroom, clearing ice, and spring yard cleaning. And I thought I had figured out why I enjoyed these particular tasks over others. But, I was still missing something: the fact that these tasks aren’t the ones that are immediately negated, thus rendering the work I put in if not useless, then obsolete.


I hate washing dishes or doing laundry, for example. The dishwasher isn’t even finished running and there are already more dirty dishes on the counter. The laundry is barely put away and the pile has already begun anew. I can’t even really take making my bed in the morning because, well, it’s going to get unmade in a short time anyway.  There’s not time to simply enjoy the work that I have done. The tasks that I like best deteriorate over time at a slower, more imperceptible pace, and it gives me a rather large window during which I can admire and appreciate the results of my efforts.


I wonder if this is because sometimes teaching can seem like such thankless and redundant work.  Progress, particularly in a writing class, is hard-won and often fragile. We move from assignment to assignment, often going over the same materials again and again each time. Each time a few more remember, but many more “forget”. Once one set of assignments are graded, another appears to start again. And then, when the semester is over, you get an entirely new set of students, and the routine starts again.


Particularly for those of us off the tenure-track, there is little opportunity to watch the seeds that you plant in a class grow, either. We are often limited to teaching introductory level classes, rarely advise students, and often don’t even have office space in which to meet with students. Did that promising, but distracted, student ever get it together? How is that other student who dreamed of being a part of the NASA program? Or the quiet student in the corner whose writing moved you to tears? They float away, and you are left to try to get to know and teach a new batch, unable to see if your efforts helped those who came before.


No one thanks me for cleaning my lawn, nor do I expect it. I also don’t expect much thanks for my efforts in the classroom. It would be nice, however, if there were more opportunities to sit back and look over what I hope I helped grow. The slate is wiped clean entirely too soon.




Morehead, Kentucky in the US.

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an edupreneur. You can visit her blog at  College Ready Writing and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.



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