By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law
Over the past six months, I have struggled with what some might call a “mid-life-professor crisis.” As I struggled to keep up with committee work, teaching, writing, applying for promotion, etc., the feeling of being overworked was overwhelming me. I write this post today because I know others struggle with the same feelings. It makes professors wonder if this is the right place and the right job. The answer to that question is intensely personal but the way to get to the answer is not very personal. I took time over the break to look deep into the recesses of my heart and mind asking myself some tough questions: do I make a difference, is this where I want to be, and if so, why? Here is two words that came to the surface again and again: recommit and privilege.
First of all, I realized I needed to recommit to the science and the art of teaching. I needed to put teaching first: before scholarship, before committee work, and before other work responsibilities. We are here to teach students, to perfect that craft, and to dedicate our energy there. The decision seemed so clear to me at that point. Teaching is what I love, and I need to focus on it first. Once I said that out loud and recommitted to that love, my direction seemed so clear: stay with teaching. I have been able to put it first for the first couple of weeks. Feel free to hold me accountable as the semester heats up!
Secondly, once I recommitted to my first love (teaching) I realized what a privilege it is to be able to come to work and teach students how to be lawyers. The last week has been so much more joyful focusing on this privilege. Some may call this gratitude, but I see gratitude as part of realizing the privilege. We are indeed lucky to do this work.
Lastly, once I saw this and felt it in my heart, I knew I had to share this perspective with my students. After I told them what a privilege it was to be a lawyer and to be their teacher, we discussed what lawyers do to make a difference in the world. Some students brought up how helping one person changes the world. As we started to talk and share, I saw the student’s shoulders start to straighten, and, it seemed, their mood lifted. I urged the students to think about what is good in their world and to think about what is a privilege in their lives. This conversation took about 5 minutes and then we continued to learn about grammar and contract drafting. After class, several students stopped me to say thank you for stopping the “rat race” for just a few minutes which allowed them to breathe and be thankful. Take some time to recommit yourself, and, if you feel comfortable, share that commitment and gratitude with your students.