Monday, September 04, 2006

Goodbye, Students

It’s Labor Day—the last summer hurrah before school starts. And, for the first time in 10 years, I’m not getting ready to teach.

Up until this summer, I taught in a veterinary technology* program at a local community college. Teaching wasn’t a planned career move; I sort of fell into it. After seven years of full-time veterinary practice, I’d begun work on the novel that was to become Tallulah Falls. It quickly became clear, though, that there wasn’t enough time or energy in my days for both a full-time job and writing.

And oh, I wanted to finish that novel.

Changing the focus of my career involved a fair bit of scrambling, a good dose of serendipity, and what felt—at the time—like a jump off a precipice. The serendipity came in the fact that, while there is only one veterinary technology program in my state, it happens to be in the city where I live. And the program happened to need a part-time instructor, at the exact time I began looking around for other, more writer-friendly ways to use my veterinary degree.

Long story short—I loved teaching. I loved that look of sudden comprehension—the “aha!” moment, when a student got it. I loved the story-telling, those “from the trenches” anecdotes that grab the class’s attention and clothe abstract concepts in fur and blood and bone. Best of all, though, I loved how much I learned from my students.

They say if you really want to learn something, teach it. There’s nothing like sparring (nicely) with a skeptical student to make you strive to be certain of your facts and your logic. Our students come to us with all kinds of experiences and backgrounds, and not a term went by that I didn’t pick up a new fact, idea, or perspective to add to my own store of knowledge. For that, and for the privilege of standing up in front of a classroom and sharing what I know, I am deeply and forever grateful.

Publishing has changed my life, not least in this way: I had too many irons in the fire, and one had to come out. I have a deadline to meet for my 2nd novel, and I can’t—I won’t—leave veterinary practice entirely. And so the teaching I fell into, ten years ago, is now fallen away.

I will miss it. I miss my students: energetic, enthusiastic, questioning, stressed-out, sharp, compassionate veterinary technician students. You guys made teaching a blast—thank you. Good luck, and I’ll see you out in the crucible of practice—where I’ll get to see how much you really know (and, no doubt, learn a few things myself).

*Veterinary technicians are the nurses of the veterinary profession. To become a licensed veterinary technician, students must complete an accredited 2-year college program and pass national and state licensing exams. Veterinary technicians provide nursing care, take radiographs, administer anesthesia, perform laboratory testing, and counsel clients, along with a thousand and one other duties. Veterinary technicians are smart and capable people, who would be successful in any number of careers with fewer hours, much less stress (not to mention poop), and way more pay. They do this work because they love it. I work with some of the best, most dedicated technicians in the field. I can’t do what I do without them. The fact that I've had the honor of teaching some of them makes me just ridiculously proud.

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