Being an adult

This started out as a facebook post, and then I thought why trouble the world with these sleepy thoughts.

* * *

When I started teaching, I was maybe six years older than my students. Now I find myself giving students, individually or as a class, advice that could be categorized as “being an adult is not nearly as liberating as you think it will be.” Most often it comes with the preface to discussions of literary works that, as a professor, I don’t care if students like a story or poem; I care about whether or not they can read it and discuss it intellectually as a part of a college discussion. I say something like, “Sadly, part of being an adult means doing things you don’t like. I don’t like paying my bills, but I do like my cell phone and living indoors. I don’t like sitting in meetings or grading papers, but they’re necessary for me keep my job, which I do otherwise like.” And so on.

Yesterday, I had a conference with a student who is smart and despite her coolness (wearing sunglasses in the middle of class, not carrying a book bag to stash her phone in so she alone of the whole class regularly texts or whatever during discussion etc), participates in class discuss with an enthusiasm that seems like a compulsion she can’t deny. One day a couple of weeks ago, her enthusiasm led her to talk back and argue and eventually cuss me when I told her that, 17 minutes late to class, she was too late for to come in. I’m so old, that even when I’m kicking students out of class for egregious behavioral issues, I am almost never mad (at least not until they refuse to stop arguing with me) and don’t take it personally; it’s just a fact; according to my rules, if a student is more than ten minutes late, I reserve the right not to admit them to class.

Anyway, in the conference I ended up telling her that I related to her frustration and anger, that I myself had been mostly angry most of the time for many years, but that to be an adult, to move in the professional world, you have to keep your cool, that losing your temper often means losing the argument, that if I talked to my boss the way she talked to me, no matter if I was right and my boss was wrong, I could expect that would have negative consequences (to say nothing of how miserable being mostly angry most of the time made me). Beforehand, I’d worried about how the conference might go, but I made sure that I didn’t act mad and approached it as a skill she needed to work on as she moves into the professional world. She was sweet and apologized. We’ll see what happens in class.

All this leads me to thinking this morning how as a semi-professional adult, I do have less freedom than when I was a child, and I don’t just mean that I have to work, which is what I always thought my dad meant when he made similar comments to me, but that I no longer have the excuse “we’ll, she’s still basically a child” to hide behind when I’ve behaved less than graciously.

That’s all, not-facebook.


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