The Sterile Dream of Being a Literature Professor:
A Personal Account

For far too long I dreamed of being a full-time English professor while pursuing a writing career on the side. Eventually, I understood that this was not meant to be. And it is better that this is so. The wonder and beauty of the solitude of being engaged with the living spirit of language and literature in an office lined with books balanced by engaging interested students each semester on the numerous questions that the literary classics set before us always inspired me and drew me to the university life as a student as well as an adjunct. But the reality is naturally not what we romantics would have it be. Students barely have an interest in literature or reading for that matter, it’s a shock when they show up to class (often without the book), and they can hardly write a five-page research paper let alone a coherent paragraph with a defensible thesis. Your peers are catty and self-absorbed, fearful you will strip them of their post as you rise in the ranks or even steal the ideas they are developing for publication. Your superiors have no interest in you, and could care less if you have any issues, and hardly remember that you are even there. Your pay is atrocious for what you have to put up with and for what you are given, and becoming tenured is practically impossible now seeing as universities do not want to pay the higher income this achievement would grant you. But none of this is really why I do not want to return to teaching.

It is true that I enjoyed my days as a literature student, and one always hopes as a professor that a handful of students each semester will appreciate some novel or poem and the knowledge one imparts to them over this text, thus giving one a sense of fulfillment, that one has done their job as a professor, which is to impart knowledge to the next generation to make them a more well-rounded human being and give them the information they need to succeed in their chosen career. But what makes the once-fulfilling dream of being a professor sterile for me after almost a decade away from teaching is that the dream itself is limited because your audience is limited (to yourself) and translating the dream into a reality does not work because it is only meant for you. Your dreams are exactly that—your dreams; there is no other who can share the intensity of your passion and ambition to achieve your dream, and so when you make that dream concrete in the real world there is always something missing—the intimacy of communicating and sharing the depth of that dream and the passion behind it.

Since I cannot convey my love for literature and the passion it fills me with to more than a handful of students a year, because they do not have the love for the written word or the classics that I do, I cannot show them how literature can make them realize and embody their humanity more deeply and tangibly and so make them better thinkers, feelers, and leaders for the future. This is the reason why I could never go back to teaching, because on the flip side there is little to no positive response by students in sharing my love for literature and in understanding it, and so I am left feeling I cannot do what teaching and literature demands of me—connecting with students by expanding their hearts and minds to become more multidimensional human beings.

As I have said on numerous occasions, literature alone saved my soul, enabling me to connect to myself and to others, and to read and understand the world, and to show me that in my loneliness and my difference, I was not alone, for the characters I read about were just like me; they mirrored me in my thoughts and emotions, allowing me to find a path toward redemption through art and language, through writing and reading. Reading and literature opened my mind in ways one can hardly imagine and in ways I cannot express in words, and in teaching for almost six years, I saw that I was unable to convey this connection to language and literature and the power of self-discovery through literature to students, trying and failing to make them grasp the value of literature to themselves and society. And so the dream desired is the dream sterilized, because the passion I feel for literature cannot be experienced by those who most need to feel profoundly and discover not just themselves but others and the infinite world around them before their youth fades and the vital spirit of progress and liberation inside them that the human race needs now more than ever vanishes with it.

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