Professional Students and Student Professionals

Yesterday I took the final for my “Composing Composition” class, a course designed to prepare one to design, teach, and defend (sell) classes with rigorous academic writing components.  The final was a mock interview where I played the part of myself interviewing for a job that, in the real world, I had already won.  The interview went very well–probably due in part to the fact that in my former lives I have been both an eight time All-State speech geek and a trainer for a national retailer’s management staff–but I’d still count the experience as trippy.

Now, it wasn’t because my mock interviewer asked exactly the same sorts of questions I’d been asked in the past–she didn’t.  It was because earlier in the day I’d exchanged a volley of emails with my new employer regarding the “proper” formatting for syllabi and the table recording the performance of previous syllabi, arranged by department, course, and instructor, for two years past.  Seeing all this effort to create a metric, encode all that information (over seventy unique syllabi), and finally present it “report card” style just so that the administration could point to some “hard data” about the quality of its professors was my first taste of what I know will be the de-blooming of the academic rose.  Over the course of forty-five minutes I was play-acting the part of an eager candidate still bright eyed and innocent to the realities of professorial life while in reality I had the job and was getting the first tentative feelings that all was not sweetness and light in the ivory towers.

Now, before the comment box is flooded with people suggesting that I surrender my position to them if I’m already doubting my decision to teach at the college level, let me explain that my fluttery stomach butterflies should in no way be understood as a diminishment of my excitement about teaching or my commitment to it.  The moment that I’m trying to describe with the preceding imagery is more like the moment after one gets married and discovers that despite the companionship, delight at one another’s presence, and honeymoon frolicking there are also bills to be paid, diner to be made, and little fights over who used the last bit of paper and failed to refill the printer.  The moment I have in mind is when you recognize that all the opulent benefits of a new position arrive with pragmatic concessions.

This little reality check actually explains a phenomena that I’ve been wrestling with for the past few days.  Since I turned in my thesis on Monday afternoon, my final syllabus on Monday evening, and prepped for my mock interview on Tuesday morning, I’ve had only one assignment left to finish: my seminar paper for my final class with the incomparable Ted Cohen.  The paper has been in progress since the second session of the class.  It attempts to demonstrate that what ordinary language philosophy needs–a bright line between technical uses and ordinary performative uses of language–the method of ordinary language philosophy ultimately precludes.  That is, once one demonstrates that all meaning is context specific (indexical) and a word’s proper use evaluated according to the mutually agreed upon criteria associated with that particular context, then all performative meanings/functions of words are just the result of dissimilar contexts/purposes.  The claim is pretty simple and I’ve been working through the argument for nine weeks, but I just keep slowly chipping away at this final paper.  I mean, it is almost as though I don’t want to be finished with it.  Oh, wait a minute…

So, it seems that I’m dragging out my last few days as a student–despite my excitement at soon taking the reins as a professor–precisely because I recognize that participating in the academy as a student is a profoundly different experience than participating in the academy as a vocation.  One could say that even being a professional student is not the same as being a student professional.  Now, all that being said, my academic regalia (sans hood) was delivered yesterday, which is terribly exciting.


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