"Sometimes, when I have spent an hour or more, pouring all my enthusiasm and sensitivities into an effort to tell these stories in the fullness in which I see and experience them, I feel drained and exhausted. I think it works on the student, but I do not really know. Much of the time I feel dreadfully alone with it—and don’t even know whether I am alone with it."
—Karl Weintraub, on the distinctively difficult task of teaching the liberal arts well
Years after Carol Quillen, now Davidson College’s President, left the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, Karl Weintraub, a former professor who’d taught her a defining course on Western civilization, included this in a letter. It has resonated with me since reading it in this excellent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
It leaves me thinking about my own teaching—the hours and energy I invest in preparing, tracking down timely articles for discussion, concocting assignments that I hope will meaningfully engage my students, offering substantive feedback, trying to inspire them to innovate and take risks and dream and, most of all, champion the manuscripts they love. Occasionally I glance across the classroom and find one scanning his iPhone under the table, another doodling, and I don’t know whether or how any of it gets through.